Proposition 51, school bonds for K-12 and community college

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Editor’s note: Because of a crowded November ballot and limited space for analysis, we’re beginning our examination of propositions voters must weigh in on earlier than we normally do. We’ll begin with those that may seem less complex or controversial, and examine those of greater public interest closer to the November election. We’ll briefly recap all just before the election.

Proposition 51, the California Public Education Facilities Bond Initiative, authorizes issuance and sale of $9 billion in bonds to benefit K-12 schools and community colleges, for facility construction, modernization and improvement.

The measure authorizes $9 billion in general obligation bonds and distributes the funds as follows: $3 billion for construction of new K-12 school facilities for “applicant school districts”; $500 million for providing charter school facilities; $3 billion for modernization of existing K-12 school facilities; $500 million for providing facilities for career technical education programs; and $2 billion for acquiring, constructing, renovating and equipping community college facilities. Bond proceeds are deposited in the 2016 State School Facilities Fund and in the 2016 California Community College Capital Outlay Bond Fund established in the State Treasury, to be drawn and apportioned to applicant school districts, county boards of education and community college districts.

In addition to the above-stated purposes, funds may be used for new construction grants for eligible county boards of education for funding classrooms for the severely handicapped.

As part of the measure, the state director of finance may withdraw from the General Fund amounts not to exceed the amount of unsold bonds in order to carry out the intention and provisions of the proposition. Any amounts withdrawn from the General Fund must be repaid with interest from future bond sales.

This same bond initiative was initially launched in 2014 but was opposed by Gov. Jerry Brown before the measure could pass the California Senate and thus did not qualify at that time. Brown’s statement then and now in opposition is that the bond initiative is a “blunderbuss effort that promotes sprawl and squanders money that would be far better spent in low-income communities.”

The California legislative analyst and finance director estimate state General Fund costs of $17.6 billion to pay off principal ($9 billion) and interest ($8.6 billion) on bonds over a period of 35 years. Annual payments would average $500 million. Annual payments would be relatively low in the initial and final few years, and somewhat higher in the intervening years.

The measure is supported by both the California Democratic and Republican parties, the California Building Industry Association, the state Parent Teacher Association, the California Labor Federation, the League of Women Voters of California and the California Association of School Business Officials. It is opposed by Brown. The measure is broadly funded with $4.5 million in support from interested organizations with virtually no money in opposition.

The last statewide school facilities bond was passed by California voters in 2006. As a result, supporters contend there is a significant backlog of K-12 and community college facility projects, including modernization efforts geared to ensuring basic health and safety standards are maintained.

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