[This is an initial reflection by me - Jeff Vincent, PhD, Deputy Director, Center for Cities + Schools - on the news yesterday that there will not be any new funding for K-12 school facilities in California in the near future]
Yesterday, Governor Brown officially said "no" to a 2014 school construction and modernization bond to go before the voters in November. Despite the efforts of lead authors Asm Joan Buchanan and Asm Curt Hagman - and many other stakeholders around the state - California school districts will continue to go without facility funding from the state. Our last state bond was passed in 2006 and fully allocated about a year ago.
The bottom line is that right now, there is no commitment from state leadership to provide funding for California K-12 school facilities to ensure health, safety, and educational suitability for our children.
Publicly, Brown points to his concerns about state debt levels. Of course this is important. But a better analysis is needed of the "cost" of debt versus the benefits of appropriate investment in our school buildings.
The key question is: The State of California has a constitutional requirement for education - so, what is the state responsibility and role for ensuring safe, healthy, and educationally suitable school buildings and campuses?
Personally, I think there's more to Brown's opposition than just debt. For one, he has signaled in the past that he wants a completely recrafted state school facility funding program that is more strategic and has some needs-based orientation. But another key piece is that there just doesn't seem to be enough pressure from local school districts, child/education advocates, developers, etc. across the state for state school facilities funding right now. Without that public (or behind the scenes) pressure, it appears there's little political willingness.
But perhaps an even bigger reason is that we have very little information to make a case for the need for state K-12 facilities funding. There's been little appetite from state leaders or local school districts to provide conditions and quality information about their school buildings. Seeing how the State of California requires about 6 million children to spend 30+ hours per week in schools and the State has limited knowledge of the health, safety, and educational suitability of those environments....is rather concerning.
I believe the way forward is to rethink the state's K-12 facility funding approach. Without substantial changes to local revenue raising abilities, it seems the state must play a funding role. But what should that look like? Let's take a cue from the LCFF: provide a more equitable funding approach that matches local conditions and strengthen local planning requirements for wise spending.
I'll be working on this issue in the coming months and hope to provide further insight to California stakeholders.
But let me leave you with a statement yesterday from Asm Joan Buchanan about the deadend for AB 2235. Its rather insightful:
“We’ve come to the end of the road. The Governor made it clear to the Speaker on Friday that he does not want a school bond on the same ballot as the water bond and rainy day fund. We have no commitment to support a future bond. In our meetings with the Department of Finance, they stressed that the Governor questions what role, if any, the State should play in funding facilities.
We know that the responsibility for educating our children is not written in local city or county ordinances, it is written in our state Constitution. Our Constitution places such a high value on education, that it prioritizes funding for education second, after debt service. This is why major education court cases (e.g., Serrano v. Priest) and Williams, were cases that named the state as the defendant. The ultimate decision on the state’s responsibility for school facilities may be decided in the courts, not the Legislature.
As we move forward, I want to thank each of you for your support of AB 2235 and for all you do for our children and our schools. It has been a pleasure working with you. You make a difference!”