CA Expanded School Programs without Expanding Construction Funding

If the state Assembly's Democratic leaders have their way, the next state budget will dedicate $10 billion out of a projected $30 billion surplus to repair and expand K-12 school districts' facilities.

The money would put a big dent in building needs that have grown since voters defeated a $15 billion bond for K-12 schools and colleges in March 2020. These include an  immediate need to modernize school buildings to accommodate transitional kindergarten and community schools.

A proposed $12 billion school building bond issue for the 2022 ballot, however, could be derailed by the Assembly bill.

Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, who chairs the Assembly Budget Committee, highlighted the $10 billion in the Assembly budget blueprint that he presented in December. An unspecified additional amount would go to university and community college facilities, along with $10 billion for transportation projects.

How the money for transitional kindergarten to 12th grade would be distributed -- whether through grants or tied to matching local contributions, as under the current facilities program -- would be negotiated in coming months with the Senate and Gov. Gavin Newsom, who will propose his version of the 2022-23 budget this month. But Assembly leaders wanted to make their broad priorities known now, Ting said.

What's also unclear is whether the surplus funding would supplement or substitute for a proposed $12 billion TK-12 and community college bond issue that the Assembly passed in June, with the intent of placing it before voters next year. Ting said his inclination is that the $10 billion surplus appropriation could be in lieu of a school construction bond in 2022. It's partly a matter of timing ­-- determining the odds of passage of a bond on a crowded state ballot amid economic uncertainty; there's been no decision on proceeding, Ting said.

Assembly Bill 75, authored by Assemblyman Patrick O'Donnell, D-Long Beach, passed with a vote of 69-1, but it has yet to be heard in the Senate, which approved its own $15 billion school bond proposal in June. Senate Bill 22, authored by Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda. It includes $6 billion for higher education facilities.

Voters last approved a state education bond in 2016, and the state has depleted matching funding for local projects; $3 billion of those are in line for their state money. The defeat of the bond proposal -- Proposition 13 -- on March 3, 2020, with only 46 percent voting for it, was the first rejection of a state construction bond in a quarter-century. Analysts speculated that some voters confused it with another Proposition 13, the popular anti-tax constitutional amendment passed in 1978, and assumed the state bond would raise their property taxes. The vote was also in the first days of the Covid pandemic, amid anxiety and uncertainty about what to expect.

There is another reason the Assembly wants to commit the bulk of a projected budget surplus to school facilities and transportation projects. Spending on infrastructure is one of the few uses allowed to avoid setting in motion what is called the Gann Limit, the restraint on state and local government spending, including school and community college districts, that voters passed in 1979.

Named after its primary advocate, Paul Gann, and amended in 1990, it's intended to limit inflation-adjusted per-person government spending to 1978/79 levels. Once state tax revenue exceeds that level over a two-year period, the Legislature is required either to lower taxes or split the money between taxpayer rebates and additional funding for K-12 schools and community colleges.

State spending has rarely approached that ceiling, and, and when it has, governors and Legislatures have turned to escape hatches built into the law. In his budget revision last May, Newsom recognized the Gann obligation and proposed sending $8 billion back to schools and community colleges and $8 billion in economic stimulus payments of up to $1,100 to nearly a quarter of California residents. In the enacted budget, the Legislature characterized the stimulus payments as emergency pandemic spending, exempt from Gann limit calculations, and made accounting adjustments to avoid repayments to schools.

But with the Legislative Analyst's Office projecting another year of record revenue, Assembly leaders are proposing more capital spending to again avert invoking the Gann limit and to help school districts' immediate demand for facilities. Newsom and the Legislature may not have a solid estimate of how much revenue will fall under the Gann limit until after the budget revision in May.

The current state budget includes billions of dollars to phase in transitional kindergarten for 4-year-olds over the next three years and to fund new community schools, offering medical and mental health care, and community and family services. Meeting these construction needs, along with districts' deferred maintenance, could be a priority for the $10 billion the Assembly proposes, Ting said.

Edgar Zazueta, senior director of policy and governmental relations for the Association of California School Administrators, said, “There's a valid argument for investing one-time money for infrastructure projects and completing commitments made last year before adding new initiatives.”

He said a school bond would also be popular, and is concerned the Assembly proposal might undermine support for it.

Troy Flint, chief information officer for the California School Boards Association, agreed. “We already have, through bonds, a process for financing school facilities that has traditionally been popular and effective. We would be hesitant to restrict money for facilities instead of letting districts use Gann funding however it makes the most sense in their communities.”

Ting disputed that the priority should be giving districts more open-ended one-time dollars; they already have a record amount of state and federal funding, he said.

“Districts have plenty of money; many have not figured out how to spend it. But many schools don't even offer kindergarten for lack of facilities,” he said.

Ted Lempert, president of the advocacy organization Children Now, agreed that funding for facilities, whether in a bond or through one-time state funding, should be designated for transitional kindergarten facilities and community schools. But, he said, “The mantra that education and kids have all the dollars they need now is simply not true.”

Child care, especially, hasn't recovered from the pandemic, he said. It remains in a crisis, with a shortage of staff and providers, he said. He encouraged the Legislature to view the Gann lLmit's exceptions broadly and include child care as qualifying for emergency funding.

Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at UC Berkeley and an advocate of transitional kindergarten and early childhood education, urged legislators to steer money for TK facilities equitably to the districts with the biggest needs. The current school facilities program favors wealthier districts with higher property values.

“How facilities help narrow early learning disparities is a slippery question,” he said. “Affluent areas have part-time TK programs and can better afford their own facilities bonds.”

John Fensterwald is a reporter with EdSource, a partner with Bay City News Service.

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Who chose the stock photo?
    I am deeply concerned you need to send the web editor staff for urgent reeducation at
    Diversity, Equity and Inclusion camp.

  2. the voters turn down 15B Bond so the government confiscates 10B in overpaid taxes for schools that are just about to close anyway

    have you looked at the fertility rate lately?

    I told you they would keep that 31B, just watch

    next will be rundown hotels in po people neighborhoods and they will deliver more homeless from downtowns to your streets

    and then there’s COPA, oh boi

    and YOU vote for these people like a religion

    baaaaaaahahahaha

    baaaaaaassahahahaha

    when will you grow up and sit at the big boy table and use your reason not your racism?

    never I guess

  3. This is the issue with sweeping funding bills like Build Back Better – or some half-baked state effort. They say “it will provide everyone with affordable daycare.” It just shows they have no clue what the current system is like – and the issues it has with capacity and employee retention. To say, basically, “we can provide this service to everyone” is a downright lie. Why? Because they never talk about the specific plan – including the vast amount of issues with the current child-care system, especially pre-K. In order to “expand” you have to fortify the existing system and address massive issues like low teacher pay, and facility accountability/standards. If you just add more funds to the current system, without fixing it first – you are expanding a terrible business model that will just continue to struggle.

    On top of that, as stated in the article, facilities are important – so you have to look at the WHOLE picture, not just part of it. So provide the added funds to existing childcare facilities with a state license for them to expand and serve more families. Then, address the actual employee retention issues, and make pre-K a living wage career path. Once existing facilities and operations are running efficiently – and teacher retention is a thing, then look at expanding.

    These utopian pie in the sky ideas consistently sound good during election season, but we see the failures in planning when the rubber meets the road, and it’s a waste of time and energy for all. These politicians pushing for these efforts have to experience or skills in these programs, and just talk a lot.

  4. CA’s go to policy of “Tax & Spend” and then Spend some more.

    CA already spends way more $$ per pupil than the Return On Investment justifies.

    Voters Soundly Defeated the $15 Billion School bond in 2020 – where is all the money going for previous school bonds?

    School Bonds:
    “…from 2010 through 2019, $76.7 billion in local school bonds were approved by voters,
    along with the $9.0 billion Prop. 51, approved by voters statewide in 2016.
    …still outstanding are Older Bonds “from 1996 to 2006, CA voters approved
    about $109 billion in school construction bonds at the state & local level.”

    Interest on Bonds: A bond earning 5%, paid down over 30 years, will require total payments, interest and principle, of nearly 2x that much.

    CA’s taxpayers are currently paying at least $15 billion per year to finance currently outstanding school bonds, with more on the way.”

    —— “CA’S K-12 Spending EXCEEDS $20,000 Per Pupil” (CalPolicyCtr Mar2020) —–

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