The introductory sections of Assembly Bill 18 lay out, at great length, the complexity of California’s education finance system — if anything so convoluted, opaque and irrational can be called a “system.”
“The current system is not logical, with district revenues that are largely a historical artifact of spending in the 1970s combined with a confusing, bureaucratic, report-driven and burdensome system of categorical programs,” the legislation says.
Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, a Santa Monica Democrat who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, says she introduced the bill as a vehicle for making the $50 billion-plus that California spends on K-12 education each year more equitable, more effective and more transparent.
However, through many hours of hearings and private meetings, Brownley, the unions, school administrators and school boards could not reach a consensus on how school financing should be rejiggered, so she’s put AB 18 on indefinite hold.
But that doesn’t mean the capital has neglected the largest single chunk of the state budget — not by a long shot. Instead of simplifying and rationalizing school finance, however, Brownley, other Democratic legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown made it demonstrably worse.
They devised a secretive, last-minute bill — part of the budget — that tells school districts that if their state funds are reduced because the budget’s rosy revenue assumptions don’t materialize, they must ignore the shortfall and continue to employ teachers as if they had the money in hand.
The ban on layoffs testifies to the immense clout that the California Teachers Association wields among the Legislature’s majority Democrats. Democrats and their allies are beginning work on a 2012 ballot measure package that would include new taxes. So they count on the CTA and other public employee unions for campaign funds.
Another section of the last-minute bill raises the stakes even more by requiring the state to give schools about $2.1 billion in retroactive financing if the tax package either doesn’t materialize or is rejected by voters — money the state wouldn’t have. Still another section suspends oversight of financially troubled school districts, another goodie for the CTA.
The net effect is that school finance, already a bewildering welter of constitutional and statutory provisions that only a few in the capital understand, just became even denser and more complicated and irrational.
Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.