Bonds

California school bond measure passes Senate, headed to Assembly

California lawmakers are betting voters have had a change of heart regarding the need for a statewide school bond measure.

The state Senate approved on Wednesday a $15.5 billion school construction bond measure that would go before voters in March that is similar to the $15 billion Proposition 13, a failed school bond measure that garnered only 47% voter support in March 2020, with a simple majority needed for passage.

The measure now heads to the Assembly. If it passes there, the governor would have to sign it and then a simple majority of voters would need to approve.

Senate Bill 28, introduced by state Sen. Steven Glazer, D-Orinda, would provide funding for the construction and modernization of the state’s preschools, public schools, community colleges and state universities. He introduced a similar measure last year, that also passed the Senate, but failed to make it out of the Assembly’s education committee.

Supporters of SB 28 believe, in part, that Proposition 13 failed, because it sowed confusion among voters, since it was labeled the same as the Proposition 13 approved by voters in 1978 that restricts property taxes from rising more than 2% annually unless the property changes hands.

“For the first time in over two decades, California voters rejected a statewide bond, Proposition 13, for public school construction in March 2020,” said Glazer in a Senate analysis. “With Proposition 13’s defeat, the state has run out of matching funding for school construction.”

Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, the author of the failed March 2020 school bond measure, introduced legislation to retire ballot number 13 to remedy future confusion.

School bond measure Proposition 13 was the first statewide education-related bond issue voters had rejected since 1994. Since then, voters have approved six bond measures for school facilities.

About two-thirds of the state’s school facilities are more than 25 years old and it would cost more than $117 billion to modernize schools and colleges in the next decade, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

A study found that from school years 2015-16 to 2018-19, 108 schools in 60 districts were closed at least once due to poor facility conditions, including gas leaks, heating system failures, broken water pipes, pest infestations and mold, asbestos and lead contamination, Glazer said in a Senate analysis.

The UC and CSU systems have identified $13.8 billion in deferred maintenance needs, according to the Senate analysis.

SB 28 also increases the local bonding capacities for non-unified school districts to 2% from 1.25% of the taxable property in the district, and for unified school districts to 4% from 2.5%. School districts would also have to submit a five-year facilities master plan to the Office of Public School Construction to receive funds.

It also would require the Board of Trustees of the CSU and the Regents of the UC, as a condition of receiving funds, to adopt a five-year affordable student housing plan for each campus.

Assembly Bill 247, a similar measure introduced jointly by Assemblymembers Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance; Lori Wilson, D-Suisun City; and Mike Fong, D-Alhambra, would place a $14 billion school bond before voters in March. It would provide school construction funding for transitional kindergarten through community college, but leaves out the two state university college systems. That measure is headed for a third vote in the Assembly.

“California needs a statewide school facilities bond to invest in our children to meet 21st century educational needs,” Muratsuchi, chair of the Assembly Education Committee, said in a statement. The state has “critical school facility needs, including transitional kindergarten and early childhood education, natural disaster response, universal high-speed internet access, lead abatement, and extreme heat and other climate change adaptation.”

In previous years, when similar measures were introduced, lawmakers have combined multi-billion bond measures into one effort before placing it before voters.

The last statewide general obligation bond, Proposition 51, was approved by voters in November 2016. Proposition 51 authorized a total of $9 billion in state general obligation bond funds — $7 billion for K-12 education facilities and $2 billion for community college facilities. Of the $7 billion for K-12 education, $3 billion was for new construction, $3 billion was for modernization, and $1 billion was for charter schools and vocational education facilities.

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