Time for the State to Step Up on Facilities Funding

-By Mike Walsh

When we talk about Full and Fair Funding for California’s public schools, we often look at the big picture — per-pupil funding levels. That’s natural, since California ranks just 41st nationally in the funding it provides the state’s public school students. This hinders districts and county offices of education in our quest to provide all students with a high-quality education and prepare every graduate for success in college, career and civic life.

Yet, while California’s dismal per-pupil funding levels underscore the state’s lack of investment in public schools, they don’t tell the entire story. There are many other ways in which the state shortchanges students of needed resources, and some of them go unnoticed in the mainstream media. Fortunately, CSBA consistently highlights the need for Full and Fair Funding and, last month, our advocacy raised the public profile of two important aspects of school funding.

In August, readers across the state woke up to an open letter co-written by me and CSBA CEO & Executive Director Vernon M. Billy. In the letter, we call on the next governor to immediately release the $7 billion in voter-approved funds for K-12 school facilities. The letter, which appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee, San Diego Union-Tribune and the Bay Area Newspaper Group papers, including the East Bay Times, Marin Independent Journal, and the San Jose Mercury News, was accompanied by an article on the same topic in the San Francisco Chronicle. In that article, CSBA delegate and Fremont Unified School District board member Ann Crosbie captured my sentiments when she said, “I think it’s very disturbing to put it to a vote and then refuse to actually fund it. We can try to go through the courts about it, but how long is that going to take? The students are here now.”

Two years ago, the voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 51 to provide $7 billion for the renovation and construction of K-12 schools and to fund facilities for charter schools and Career and Technical Education programs. Yet, in the last two state budgets combined, only 20 percent of the promised Proposition 51 money has been made available to school districts and county offices of education, leaving us unable to address our pressing facility needs. In essence, the state has defied voters by withholding funds for building and modernizing schools. At the current pace, it will take another eight years — a full decade after voter approval — for the state to distribute the funds. We plan on making sure that this pace accelerates rapidly in the next gubernatorial administration.

“I think it’s very disturbing to put it to a vote and then refuse to actually fund it. We can try to go through the courts about it, but how long is that going to take? The students are here now.” Ann Crosbie, Fremont USD

We will also keep the state’s feet to the fire where its habitual practice of manipulating
Proposition 98 is concerned. On Friday, Aug.10, CSBA filed a lawsuit against the state
challenging one provision of Assembly Bill 1825, a 2018–19 budget trailer bill that changes the calculation for the Proposition 98 minimum education funding guarantee. The Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, the Sacramento Bee and other papers throughout the state covered the lawsuit and noted, as the Times wrote in its headline that, “A quiet and important fight is brewing over how much must be spent on California schools.”

Taking into account existing law and current economic conditions, the state Constitution
stipulates that the Proposition 98 guarantee must be budgeted according to one of three
rules, commonly referred to as “tests.” However, if the Proposition 98 guarantee is “certified” at a lower level than what was budgeted in a prior year, AB 1825 allows the state to artificially lower the guarantee in future years by up to 1 percent of the prior year’s Proposition 98 guarantee. Based on the current year, this means that ongoing school funding could be lowered in future years by as much as $784 million, an unacceptable outcome at a time when California ranks 41st nationally in per-pupil funding.

It’s no surprise that the state promotes increases to the Local Control Funding Formula while refusing to acknowledge the impact of rising costs for schools or the clandestine measures it uses to claw money back from them. But as long as the state tries to manipulate school funding in the shadows, CSBA will shine a light on its activities and advocate for the Full and Fair Funding California’s students deserve.

Mike Walsh is CSBA President and a trustee with the Butte County Office of Education