Why Parents Should Give a Damn: Prop. 76 May Mean Less Money for California Schools

New America Media, Q & A, Carolyn Goossen and Daffodil Altan Posted: Nov 03, 2005

NAM: Why should parents pay attention to Prop. 76 in the upcoming special election?

MP: Proposition 76 is likely to affect future funding for their childrens schools. It immediately reduces the states future funding obligation to schools and community colleges by $3.8 billion. To the extent that a person believes the current level of school funding is appropriate, that may not be a concern.

NAM: Supporters of Proposition 76 say that we need it to prevent the state from spending more money than it actually has. What are your thoughts on this?

MP: The state has already put some controls in place. It's always a question of priorities. This measure would put more of the responsibility for the amount of spending on schools as well as control over state spending in general in the hands of the state Legislature and governor.

NAM: When considering Prop. 76, what are a few important facts that parents should know about the way schools are funded now?

MP: The state Legislature and governor control the bulk of the funding that goes to schools. Because of Proposition 98-which was passed by voters in 1988-they are currently required to guarantee a certain amount of money to schools per year. If Proposition 76 were passed, the minimum guarantee of money to schools would be changed in some important ways that would likely keep the amount lower than under current law. The Legislature has the power to fund schools above the minimum however.

NAM: Can you explain how money gets to our schools?

MP: The state gives the money to school districts based on several factors, including the number of students attending the school, the general purpose money each district receives for each student, support for specific programs that the district qualifies for (such as Special Education or Class Size Reduction), and miscellaneous income from a variety of sources (such as bond measures or parcel tax elections). Districts then distribute the money to the schools in their area.

NAM: Why do some schools have more money than others?

MP: Districts distribute the money to the schools based on the number of students attending the school and other criteria. Some schools may get more money than others in the same district because they have more special needs students, participate in more programs, have more experienced staff who have higher salaries, or have more fundraising support from parents and their community.

NAM: Why are some districts wealthier than others?
MP: The division of state resources to districts for general purposes is roughly the same, though a few districts receive more money because their local property taxes are higher than what would be their portion of state funding. These districts, called "basic aid" or "excess revenue" districts, can keep the extra money.

Other districts receive more funds because they participate in more special programs or have more students eligible for extra funding (often from the federal government) because their students are from low-income families or have special needs. In addition, a few districts have unique circumstances, such as an oil well, that provide extra funding. Other districts rely on fundraising support from parents and the community through parcel tax elections, bond measures, and other efforts.

NAM: Will Prop. 76 have an impact on this division of resources?

MP: Proposition 76 will have no impact on the division of resources.

NAM: If Prop 76 passes, what happens next? What if it doesn't pass?

MP: Either way, the public wont see an immediate impact on our schools. This proposition is very much setting a course that will guide funding over many years. Opponents say that passage would result in reduced funding for schools over time. Proponents say that might not be true, but state policymakers would be the ones to decide as the measure gives them more control over increases than they have now.

NAM: What kind of impact will Prop 76 have on California's immigrant parents in

MP: To the extent that Proposition 76 reduces funding for all schools, it reduces money for theirs.

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