California Accused of Shortchanging Schools

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – Despite a rebounding economy and a rising surplus, California officials slashed millions from education funding by using the wrong calculations according to a pair of education nonprofits’ state court suit.
     The petition filed Tuesday by the California School Boards Association accuses the state’s director of finance and other officials of violating the state Constitution by forgoing approximately $145 million in education funding from its 2015-16 budget.
     The association says the state purposely failed to update the calculations or tests used to determine the minimum funding necessary for education as guaranteed by Proposition 98 and neglected to include child care costs in its budget.
     “I don’t think it was a mistake,” said Keith Bray, lead counsel for the Education Legal Alliance. “It was an advantage for the state not to rebench the Proposition 98 formula.”
     According to the complaint, if state officials don’t update the education funding it will “allow the state to avoid its constitutional obligation to provide minimum education funding” and make the guarantee of Proposition 98 “illusory.”
     Proposition 98 was passed by voters in 1988 and is supposed to give public schools and community colleges a predictable source of funding that fluctuates depending on California’s general fund revenues. The state is required to set apart money for schools by applying the same percentage of the budget it used in 1986-87, along with two other measurements that account for inflation.
     The petitioners, an advocacy group composed of school board members from nearly 1,000 school districts, claim the proposed budget does not account for child care spending that was approved this year by lawmakers.
     “The state has it both ways: It did not consider the added child care costs as part of prior education spending when calculating the minimum guarantee amount, but it is counting those additional child care expenditures as satisfying Proposition 98 for this fiscal year,” the complaint states.
     In response to a sluggish economy and a mounting deficit, the state Legislature voted to exclude child care costs from its education requirements in 2011 and approved changes to Proposition 98. Over the last four years, the state reduced its minimum funding obligation to schools by approximately $1.1 billion, according to the complaint.
     This year lawmakers nixed the amendment and restored preschool and additional child care expenditures due to a rebounding economy.
     Yet despite lawmakers passing a record $115 billion budget for 2015-16 that includes $7 billion in new revenue, petitioners say the state failed to update its minimum funding plan and used calculations that don’t include child care costs.
     Bray says the state’s failure to include the additional funding was a manipulation of Proposition 98 and that the lawsuit is about keeping education funding “out of the political stream.”
     “[The budget] went through the political process,” Bray said. “In the political process this was the compromise that the Legislature came up with.”
      State officials declined to comment on the lawsuit telling Courthouse News it hasn’t been served with the complaint as of Tuesday.
     The nonprofits are asking for a writ of mandate requiring respondents to calculate the 2015-16 budget with the updated mathematical formulas required under Proposition 98.
     Petitioners are represented by Olson Hagel & Fishburn of Sacramento.