Your guide to Proposition 2: Education bond

broadband internet cloud and globe, apple, stack of books, air conditioner
(Los Angeles Times)

Proposition 2 is a bond measure that would allow the state to borrow $10 billion to help fund repairs and upgrades at thousands of public elementary, middle and high schools and community colleges across California.

The money from the last successful school bond, which passed in 2016, has long since been spent, and the state's school repair fund is expected to be depleted by January. There is a wait list of districts hoping the new bond will pass so that $3.4 billion can be given for already approved projects  to repair hazardous mold, leaky roofs, and septic systems, as well as to build classrooms, modernize science labs and replace aging buildings.

Voters rejected the last school bond in March 2020, a $15-billion proposal that got only 47% of the vote. This time around, after months of closed-door debates, the governor and legislators have lowered the price tag; they hope voters will be in more of a spending mood come November. A simple majority is needed to approve the bond.

What will the measure do?

Proposition 2 would provide $8.5 billion in facility renovations and new construction for TK-12 schools, with 10% of the funds dedicated to small school districts. Community colleges would receive $1.5 billion.

To receive bond money, districts must raise a local bond of their own and then apply to the State Facilities Program for a funding match on a sliding scale up to 65% for renovations and 55% for new construction — 5% more than previous bonds. The exact state match is based on a complicated points formula that seeks to provide a higher match to low-wealth districts that cannot afford to generate much local funding, and those with a high percentage of disadvantaged districts. Districts that are unable to raise more than $15 million can receive up to a 100% match.

Districts can also apply for supplemental funding to help build or renovate transitional kindergarten facilities. This is intended to replace a $550 early education facilities grant that was cut from the governor's most recent budget.

Who are the supporters?

The school bond is supported by dozens of school districts including Los Angeles Unified, the Assn. of California School Administrators, the California School Boards Assn. and construction associations, including the powerful Coalition for Adequate School Housing (CASH).

Supporters say that the money is badly needed to improve the dilapidated conditions of many California schools, and that changes in the way funds are distributed will make the process more equitable. Districts have already started adding local bonds to the ballot in anticipation of the funds.

“These are critical dollars that we’ve been waiting on for too long, unfortunately, for our districts,” said Dorothy Johnson, legislative advocate for the Assn. of California School Administrators. “For some schools this will mean they will have a gymnasium. For some schools this will mean that they can have indoor plumbing. But it will mean something for every district.”

Who are the opponents?

Opponents of the bill include some low-wealth districts and advocacy groups that say the proposal does not go far enough in addressing the equity gap that benefits affluent school districts.

A recent report from the UC Berkeley Center for Cities + Schools found that districts in the wealthiest communities got $4,000-$5,000 more, per student, to modernize their facilities than districts in the least affluent communities. This is because districts receive a match based on what they can raise themselves. Districts with low wealth and property values are limited in the amount of a bond they can raise, while wealthy districts and large urban districts like Los Angeles and San Francisco can raise much more.

“We’re sending a message and a wrong message that some kids matter more than others,” said Lynwood Unified School District superintendent Gudiel R. Crosthwaite.

Public Advocates, a public interest law firm, had proposed a different sliding scale that would have given the lowest-wealth districts, such as Lynwood, a 95% match from the state with a 5% local contribution, while the richest districts would have received just a 5% match for a 95% local contribution.

The firm has now threatened to sue the state based on the current proposal language, which they say violates students' constitutional right to a high-quality education.

Why is this on the ballot?

A growing body of research has found that good environmental conditions — including clean air, light and safe building facilities — improve students' academic achievement. Yet a report from the Public Policy Institute of California found that 38% of students statewide go to schools that do not meet minimum facility standards.

Without a dedicated funding stream for school facilities, California depends on raising money from state or local bonds. Since 1998, voter-approved ballot initiatives have raised $43 billion in bonds to finance school repairs, modernization and new construction. But with no new state bond funding since 2016, the money needed to make necessary repairs has been exhausted, and a new infusion of funds is needed.

More election news

Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.