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California educators prepare for battle over school funding

California Governor Gavin Newsom presents his revised 2024-25 state budget during a press conference in Sacramento, Calif., Friday, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his revised state budget last week with details of how he plans to close a $27.6 billion deficit. Now, outraged education officials across California are calling the school funding cuts “unconstitutional” and posing the potential for litigation.

Some of these cuts affect Proposition 98, a constitutional mandate approved by voters in 1988 that guarantees minimum funding for California TK-12 schools and community colleges.

The annual Prop 98 funding guarantee is calculated using a complex formula based on a percentage of the state's general fund revenue or the amount schools received the previous year, with some adjustments for attendance and inflation. In other words, Prop 98 requires schools to receive at least the same amount of funding they received the previous year. The amount allocated to schools in the 2024-25 budget is important because it serves as the basis for future years' allocations.

Newsom's administration said the state's income tax revenue fell short of projections, leaving schools receiving more money than they should have received starting in 2022-23. As a result, his government wants to lower core funding requirements to reflect lower government revenues.

In his revised budget released May 10, Newsom said general fund revenue fell by $44.9 billion in the three-year budget window (2022-23 to 2024-25). To balance the budget, his administration proposed using the $8.8 billion allocated to schools in 2022-23 as advance payments for the future – meaning the money would be used in future base funding calculations is not taken into account by Prop 98.

“This budget proposal, in our view, is not only lawful and constitutional, but is also intended to provide predictable and stable support for K-12 schools and community colleges in the wake of the unprecedented disruption to revenue projects over the past year,” said HD Palmer, the Department of Deputy Finance Director for External Affairs.

Newsom's proposed $109.1 billion Prop 98 education budget for 2024-25 is about $30 billion, or nearly 38%, higher than it was five years ago in 2019-20, his first year in office. The governor's revised budget was $79.3 billion, according to supporting documents. It's also higher than the $105.6 billion budgeted last year.

But educators with the California Teachers Association and the California School Board Association have said the move will reduce Prop 98's funding guarantee for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 fiscal years by $11.9 billion.

And because the funding formula builds on previous years to determine how much money should be allocated to schools each year, educators say a change could reduce schools' funding by billions of dollars.

David Goldberg, president of the California Teachers Association, said in a statement Friday that Newsom's proposal would cut school funding for years to come and open the door to “future manipulation” of the Prop 98 guarantee.

Anna Harden

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