In book clubs and exercise groups across town, Palo Alto PTA volunteers are gathering signatures for a November income-tax initiative to raise funds for California public education.
The local effort is part of a statewide PTA push to gather a share of the more than 500,000 signatures needed to qualify the so-called Munger Initiative, launched by Los Angeles lawyer Molly Munger.
Munger's proposed initiative would boost state income tax rates for most Californians for the next 12 years to raise about $10 billion a year for preschool and K-12 education.
A rival initiative by Gov. Jerry Brown, also in the signature-gathering phase, would increase state income tax for earners over $250,000 for seven years, and boost the state's sales and use tax by a quarter-cent for four years. Eighty-nine percent of proceeds would go to K-12 schools and the balance to community colleges.
Brown's proposed initiative has the backing of the 295,000-member California Teachers Association.
California State PTA officials have endorsed Munger's initiative -- and also had a hand in drafting it.
Palo Alto PTA volunteers aim to collect at least 2,000 signatures. Statewide, the PTA has pledged to come up with 100,000 signatures, and Munger has said she will fund a paid signature-gathering effort for the balance needed to qualify for November's ballot.
The Munger initiative "really does reflect the priorities parents have been expressing to the PTA for years," said local signature organizer Sigrid Pinsky, vice-president of advocacy for the Palo Alto Council of PTAs.
"We've gotten behind the right initiative. It's a really good bill from the PTA's point of view," Pinsky said.
"This is new money for the schools -- that's a really important piece -- and also it's in a lockbox for local control. It doesn't go through Sacramento."
In the local campaign, volunteers at each of Palo Alto's 12 elementary schools were asked to gather 120 signatures. Signature goals were higher for volunteers in middle schools and high schools because of larger enrollments at that level, Pinsky said.
Palo Alto volunteers hope to have their signature drive completed by April 10, she said.
Signature-gatherers have been asked by the state PTA not to campaign on school property, so volunteers have used alternative means -- carrying petitions around in their purses, taking them to book clubs, coffees or setting up tables to catch foot traffic near schools, such as one in Mitchell Park.
"I'm spending a lot of time explaining this to people," she said.
"Not everybody pays attention to all the initiatives that are coming up, but once people understand it we're getting a lot of signatures. People say we need to do something, and this seems to most of the people I'm talking to like a really good path because it accomplishes debt reduction and is over 12 years -- a very sustained period of time," Pinsky said.
Molly Munger, who calls her proposed initiative "Our Children, Our Future," is a sister of Palo Alto physicist Charles Munger Jr., who bankrolled California's Proposition 20 in 2010.
That initiative, which passed with 61.2 percent of the vote, shifted control of Congressional redistricting from the State Legislature to a bipartisan citizens' panel.