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California Schools Set To Lock In State Budget Funding For Long Term, Even If There’s A Recession

Jessica Paterson / Flickr

Jessica Paterson / Flickr

California lawmakers have reached a budget deal with Gov. Jerry Brown that, for the first time in a decade, will include an obscure provision to guarantee future minimum funding levels for schools and community colleges — at the expense of everything else.

The governor proposed what’s called the certification of Proposition 98 (see page three) last month after resisting requests from teachers unions in previous years. Prop. 98 is the school funding guarantee that voters placed in the California Constitution in 1988.

“When the economy goes through the inevitable cycle and we go through the next recession, then that really protects kids with a base amount of funding,” says California Teachers Association President Eric Heins.

But securing the funding means any future budget cuts would have to come from other programs, like health care and universities — unless the Legislature suspends Proposition 98 with a two-thirds vote.

In addition to certifying Prop. 98 for the first time since the 2008-09 fiscal year, the governor wants to address some of the logistical challenges in how the state funds the Prop. 98 minimum guarantee.

The state must estimate how much money is owed to school and community college districts at the start of a each fiscal year, based on revenue projections at that time. But revenues never precisely match projections, so the state ends up either overpaying or underfunding the districts.

In cases of underfunding, the state typically struggles to pay the money back in a timely fashion. When it overpays, it’s usually unable to recover the money because that would require the approval of the Legislature.

The Brown administration says its proposal would provide more certainty for districts while giving the state more budget flexibility.

“Any funding in excess of the required minimum level determined through the certification process may be deemed to meet [Prop. 98] guarantee obligations in future years,” the governor’s Department of Finance wrote as part of Brown’s revised budget proposal last month. “Any additional amount owed would be paid over a specified time period.”

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