$15 Billion School Bond Measure Headed to California Voters

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California voters will soon decide whether to provide outdated schools and universities with a $15 billion facelift under legislation signed Monday by Governor Gavin Newsom.

Supporters say that with both K-12 and higher education districts struggling to meet growing enrollment numbers, the massive bond could help fix longstanding overcrowding troubles by modernizing campuses across the Golden State. Slated for the March 2020 primary ballot, the measure will be the largest school construction bond to be voted on in state history.

“This is an important moment in our educational agenda and an important moment in the journey to get California schools out of the bottom 10 and back on top,” Newsom said during a signing ceremony in Sacramento.

The proposal by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, dedicates $9 billion to preschool and K-12 districts and $2 billion each for the University of California, California State University and the community college system. O’Donnell, a teacher, said the bond funding could help schools finally remove mold, asbestos and lead from older campuses.

“Students are more motivated to learn when their schools are safe and modern,” O’Donnell said. “This bond will help construct and rehabilitate pre-K through university facilities in our state, showing our commitment from cradle to grave.”

California voters have historically been receptive to taking out education loans, including in 2016 when they approved a $9 billion to fund construction projects at K-12 and community colleges. Voters approved the 2016 measure, Proposition 51, by a 55-44% margin.

A recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California indicates that voters might once again get behind O’Donnell’s proposal: The poll found 54% of likely voters would support his $15 billion construction bond if it was on the March 2020 ballot, with 40% against.

As detailed in the bill’s Sept. 14 analysis, the $15 billion bond could end up costing taxpayers $27.4 billion by the time loans are paid off. The estimate is based on a 4.5% interest rate and a 30-year maturity. The measure requires school districts and the university systems to conduct public hearings and audits on the various projects that receive grants.

O’Donnell’s proposal was overwhelmingly approved in both chambers with bipartisan support.

Monday’s signing was the second major recent education ceremony for Newsom, as last week he signed legislation that gives local school districts oversight over competing charter schools. The bill was also brought by Assemblyman O’Donnell and moves oversight of charter schools from state officials to local school district boards or county education offices.

Newsom said he’s confident that come March, a majority of voters will approve the latest school construction bond. He added that the topic transcends politics and noted the Legislature’s bipartisan support for the bill.

“Voters will approve this bond, because voters have historically approved school bonds,” Newsom said. “You can’t look at the eyes of these kids and make an argument that the facilities that so many of them are being educated in are appropriate.”

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