CA expanded school programs without expanding construction funding

If the Democratic leaders in the state assembly are successful, the next state budget will spend $ 10 billion of a planned surplus of $ 30 billion to repair and expand facilities in school districts in the kindergarten to grade 12.

The money would significantly reduce construction needs which have increased since voters rejected a $ 15 billion bond for K-12 schools and colleges in March 2020. These include an immediate need to upgrade school buildings to welcome kindergartens and community transition schools.

A plan to issue bonds of 12 billion dollars for the construction of schools for the poll of 2022 could however be canceled by the bill of the Assembly.

Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, who chairs the Assembly’s budget committee, highlighted the $ 10 billion in the Assembly’s draft budget he presented in December. An unspecified additional amount will go to university and community college facilities, as well as $ 10 billion for transportation projects.

How the Kindergarten to Grade 12 transition money would be distributed – whether through grants or tied to matching local contributions, as under the current facilities program – would be negotiated in the coming months with the Senate and Governor Gavin Newsom coming forward with his version of the 2022-2023 budget this month. But Assembly leaders wanted to make their top priorities known now, Ting said.

What is also unclear is whether the excess funding would complement or replace a proposed $ 12 billion TK-12 and community college bond issue that the Assembly passed in June, in. intends to submit it to voters next year. Ting said he was leaning that the $ 10 billion excess credit could replace a bond to build a school in 2022. Partly it’s a matter of timing – determining a bond’s odds of passing. during an overcrowded public ballot in a context of economic uncertainty; there was no ruling on the lawsuit, Ting said.

Assembly Bill 75, drafted by Assembly Member Patrick O’Donnell D-Long Beach, has passed 69 to 1, but has yet to be heard in the Senate, which approved its own $ 15 billion school bond proposal in June. Senate Bill 22, authored by Senator Steve Glazer, D-Orinda. It includes $ 6 billion for higher education institutions.

Voters last approved a state education bond in 2016, and the state has exhausted matching funding for local projects; $ 3 billion of them are online for state money. The defeat of the bond proposal – Proposition 13 – on March 3, 2020, with just 46% of the vote in favor, was the first rejection of a state construction bond in a quarter of a century. Analysts speculated that some voters mistook it for another Proposition 13, the popular anti-tax constitutional amendment passed in 1978, and speculated that the state’s obligation would increase their property taxes. The vote also took place in the early days of the Covid pandemic, amid anxiety and uncertainty about what to expect.

There is another reason why the Assembly wants to devote the bulk of a planned budget surplus to school facilities and transportation projects. Infrastructure spending is one of the few uses allowed to avoid triggering what is known as the Gann Limit, the restriction on state and local government spending, including school and university districts, that voters have embraced. in 1979.

Named after its main proponent, Paul Gann, and amended in 1990, it aims to limit per capita government spending adjusted for inflation to 1978/79 levels. Once state tax revenues exceed this level over a two-year period, the legislature is required to reduce taxes or split the money between taxpayer refunds and additional funding for K-12 schools and community colleges.

Government spending has rarely approached this ceiling, and when it does, governors and legislatures have turned to loopholes provided by law. In its budget review last May, Newsom acknowledged Gann’s obligation and proposed returning $ 8 billion 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’s limit calculations, and made accounting adjustments to avoid reimbursements to schools.

But with the Legislative Analyst’s Office projecting another year of record revenue, House leaders are proposing more capital spending to again avoid invoking the Gann limit and to aid the immediate demand for facilities of the school districts. Newsom and the legislature may not have a solid estimate of how much revenue will fall below Gann’s limit before the budget review in May.

The current state budget includes billions of dollars to gradually establish a transitional kindergarten for 4-year-olds over the next three years and to fund new community schools, providing medical and mental health care, as well as community and family services. Meeting those construction needs, along with the deferred maintenance of districts, could be a priority for the $ 10 billion proposed by the assembly, Ting said.

Edgar Zazueta, senior director of policy and government relations for the Association of California School Administrators, said: “There is a valid case for investing one-time money in infrastructure projects and meeting year-round commitments. last before adding new initiatives. “

He said compulsory schooling would also be popular and feared the Assembly’s proposal would undermine his support.

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

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

“The districts have a lot 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 rights organization Children Now, agreed that funding for facilities, whether it is a bond or one-time state funding, should go to the facilities of transition kindergarten and community schools. But, he said, “the mantra that education and children have all the money they need now is just not true.”

Day care centers, in particular, have not recovered from the pandemic, he said. It remains in crisis, with a shortage of staff and providers, he said. He encouraged the legislature to consider Gann lLmit’s exceptions broadly and to include child care services as eligible for emergency funding.

Bruce Fuller, professor of education and public policy at UC Berkeley and advocate for transitional kindergarten and early childhood education, urged lawmakers to equitably allocate funds for TK facilities to districts having the greatest needs. The current school facilities program favors wealthier neighborhoods with higher property values.

“How facilities help reduce disparities in early learning is a slippery question,” he said. “Wealthy areas have part-time TK programs and can better afford their own facility obligations.”

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