California’s school districts have received a bonanza of new money over the last few years, reflecting the public’s priorities and a sharp uptick in revenue from an expanding economy and a temporary tax hike that Gov. Jerry Brown persuaded voters to adopt in 2012.
State and local school financing has jumped from $47.3 billion during the first budget of Brown’s second governorship (2011-12) to a projected $65.7 billion in 2015-16 – and probably will go even higher as revenue outstrips current forecasts.
Moreover, Brown is repaying billions of dollars in school appropriations that had been deferred and freeing up billions in previously restricted allocations known as “categorical aids.”
While school officials are gladly spending the extra money, they are learning that it comes with some complicating conditions.
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One is the Local Control Funding Formula, adopted in 2013, that diverts much of the new money into extra grants to districts with large numbers of poor and “English learner” students.
It’s aimed at closing the “achievement gap,” but officials of the districts that receive little or none of the extra funds are complaining about being short-changed.
A year later, another shoe dropped.
Brown and lawmakers adopted a plan to close a $74 billion shortfall in the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, forcing school districts to pay more than 70 percent of the costs, or more than $160 billion over several decades.
Their pension bites will ratchet up from 8.25 percent of payroll to 19.1 percent, $9.4 billion a year, by the end of the decade.
This year, local school officials are learning that Brown had a third shoe to drop – his intention to end using state bond issues to finance local school construction, which began after the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978.
Just since 1998, voters have approved more than $35 billion in school bonds, which have been parceled out to districts via a bewilderingly complex process, and the state is spending more than $2 billion a year to retire those bonds.
No bond money remains, but Brown has rejected demands to place another measure on the ballot, and he wants to shift responsibility to locals by making it easier to tap local bonds and developer fees and giving state building funds only to the poorest districts.
The Legislature’s budget analyst, Mac Taylor, weighed in Tuesday, endorsing Brown’s approach and proposing a per-student facility grant program that would simplify and limit state involvement.
Although there’s substantial sentiment in the Legislature for a new school bond measure, Brown holds the whip hand.
To get around Brown’s refusal, a coalition of school officials and housing developers is launching an initiative drive to place a $9 billion school bond on the 2016 ballot.
This is shaping up as the year’s most contentious education issue.
Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, sacbee.com/dan-walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.