With just days remaining in the 2019 legislative session, a bill to place two school facilities bonds before voters has been parked by legislative leaders pending ongoing negotiations over reforms to the School Facilities Program (SFP).
Assembly Bill 48 (O’Donnell) had, until last week, sailed through the Legislature with bipartisan support. The measure would establish a March 2020 statewide school bond—hence the need to finalize the bill this year—and would be followed by a second bond in 2022. A number of consensus reforms, in the eyes of educational stakeholders, would have enhanced state efforts around disaster relief, small school district assistance, remediation of lead in drinking water, joint use facilities, and other key programs.
It should come as no surprise that Governor Newsom’s administration has some additional priorities related to the SFP and the bond. It was not anticipated, however, that the administration and Department of Finance would propose substantial amendments that revisit the methodologies and approach in the 20-year-old SFP.
While the administration’s priorities are not publicly available, the state has previously expressed an interest in eliminating the first-in, first-out order of funding, arguing the program disproportionately benefited larger, more well-heeled districts and districts purportedly armed with a cadre of consultants. Likewise, the Department of Finance, under the prior governor, was critical of school districts relying on outside facilities consultants.
To date, reforms that would address those perceived concerns without unfairly upending the current system have remained elusive.
Additionally, equitable access to state funding for small school districts and those with lower property wealth remains a frequent topic among advocates and participants in the SFP.
For the Senate’s part, the house’s policy committees proffered near-unanimous, bipartisan support for AB 48 earlier this session. The Senate’s priorities, however, also include a statewide bond for higher education facilities at the University of California and California State University systems (Senate Bill 14, Glazer). A political consideration for the Senate is whether the higher education bond must be integrated with the K-14 measure to maximize the chances of voter approval.
In addition to the overall bond size, lawmakers must also decide whether to include the specific funding pots that made the prior school bond, Proposition 51 (2016) popular among voters: career technical education and charter schools.
It is unclear whether the legislative houses and administration will reach an agreement that is acceptable to all parties, including the myriad education stakeholders that were deeply involved with AB 48’s development. With just days left before the September 10 deadline to amend bills, the opportunities for vetting are increasingly limited. Having said that, there is still time for the Governor and legislative leaders of the Senate and Assembly to agree on reforms to the SFP that make progress in addressing the key concerns highlighted in recent negotiations.
Many school leaders are contacting their legislators to share their concern that the 2020 school bond is at risk, urging legislators to contact the Assembly Speaker, Senate pro Tempore, and Governor to finalize a deal that protects districts’ ability to construct and modernize our school learning environments.
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