Capitol Alert

Democrats reject GOP attempts to lift school reserves cap

Democrats in the California Senate on Thursday rejected a Republican effort to overturn a state budget provision that caps the amount of money school districts can hold in reserve.

The fight over a procedural move on the Senate floor reflected a larger disagreement between public employee unions and school district administrators over the prudence of limiting how much money the districts can hold on to from year to year. Capping the level of reserves could send more money to classrooms and workers, but administrators argue a hefty reserve would help them weather any tough times to come. The issue came to a head after lawmakers placed on the Nov. 4 ballot a measure, now Proposition 2, that will create a statewide rainy day fund by limiting the amount of money the state spends year to year.

Republican Sen. Jean Fuller, a former school superintendent from Bakersfield, said her “phone is ringing off the hook” with calls from school leaders who can’t stand the reserve cap lawmakers approved as part of the state budget in June. She asked the Senate to act on a bill to undo the requirement by sending Assembly Bill 146 to the Senate’s education committee for consideration. The budget provision enacting the reserve cap was aired publicly on a Sunday in June, Fuller said, leaving few parents or school officials the opportunity to weigh in.

“Our rules and processes are important to the integrity of this house,” Fuller said.

Democrats, who hold a majority in both houses of the California Legislature, rejected Fuller’s move, leaving the bill likely to languish in the Senate’s Rules Committee without ever getting a vote. Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, the Sacramento Democrat who heads the Rules Committee, said the funding problems Republicans predicted were unlikely to materialize.

“I understand the consternation over this issue,” Steinberg said, “But this is a proverbial mountain out of a molehill.”