School bond measure advances toward Assembly vote

School bond measure advances toward Assembly vote

(Calif.) The state Assembly appears poised to approve legislation that would assure voters consider billions in new school bonds in elections next March and in 2022.

AB 48 by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, would ask voters next year to approve $13 billion for construction and modernization of classrooms and other facilities for K-12 schools and community colleges. The bill also authorizes a second statewide bond to go on the ballot in November, 2022 but does not specify the amount.

“The state has a responsibility to ensure that students are housed in safe facilities that meet educational needs,” O’Donnell, chair of the Assembly education committee said in a statement. 

“California’s skills gap is widening,” said Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, R-San Luis Obispo, a co-author of the bill.  “While we have been successful in securing permanent funding to start new Career Technical Education programs, our schools still need dedicated funding to build state-of-the-art technical facilities.  Our students deserve and need the funding in this bill to get them ready for a 21st Century economy.”

AB 48 passed out of the Assembly’s appropriation committee earlier this month without dissent is set to be taken up by the full Assembly in the coming weeks. The bill was also approved without opposition in both the Assembly’s committee on education and the committee on higher education.

The bill comes in addition to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s commitment in his revised May budget plan to sell $1.5 billion in bonds approved by voters in 2016 to help clear a backlog of projects estimated to exceed $5 billion.

The governor has proposed spending $750 million added to an existing allocation of $100 million to help districts build or expand facilities to accommodate full-day kindergarten classes.

Newsom also wants to commit to an ongoing increase of $1.2 million to hire additional staff at the Office of Public School Construction to increase efficiencies for processing grant applications and overall workload.

All of this represents a big turnaround from the position former Gov. Jerry Brown took on school facility funding. Prior to the 2016 statewide school bond, which had been placed over Brown’s objections on the ballot by school advocates and the building industry, the state’s funding pool for sharing school construction costs had almost dried up.

Brown had been of the opinion that the existing school-state facility funding system was overly complex and bureaucratic and in need of revision.

The former governor twice resisted legislative proposals to place a new statewide bond before voters. As part of his 2015 January budget, Brown proposed reducing the state’s role as a full-share partner in cost sharing—an idea that was rejected by the Legislature.

In 2016, the funding pool for school projects nearly ran dry, triggering for the first time in state history developer fees on home builders to cover the state’s share.

Over Brown’s objection, local school officials and the state’s building industry successfully sponsored Proposition 51, which provided $7 billion in borrowing authority.

Even after that, however, Brown agreed to release only about $1.2 billion before leaving office.

According to a legislative analysis, the need statewide for new and aging classroom is close to $100 billion.

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