Lawsuit Aims to Restore Prop 98 Funding

Vanessa Duffy, El Vaquero Staff Writer

Students might keep getting the short end of the stick if California keeps unconstitutionally underfunding education.

A lawsuit was filed on Sept. 28 by the California School Boards Association (CSBA) to restore more than $2 billion to California public schools, which was cut from the 2011-12 state budget.

The plaintiffs include the Los Angeles, San Francisco and Turlock Unified School Districts. The respondents for the state of California are: Ana J. Matosantos, director of the department of finance; Tom Torlakson, superintendent of public instruction; and John Chiang, state controller.

The argument is that California artificially reduced funding for K-14 education for 2011-12 by not allocating the last minute budget additions to schools. This exclusion amounts to about $2.1 billion and therefore

violates Proposition 98 by not fulfilling the constitutionally required

minimum.

Proposition 98, amended into the state constitution by voters in 1988, guarantees public schools and community colleges a minimum of 40 percent of the state’s general fund. Community colleges typically receive a little more than 10 percent.

“The underfunding of Proposition 98 this year resulted from the last minute action of the legislature to increase the estimate of tax revenues by $4 billion,” said Ron Nakasone, vice president of administrative services at the college. “The $4 billion should have also increased Prop 98 funding, which the State did not do and consequently resulted in the lawsuit.”

The money is instead funding other services.

“The June budget shifted the burden of providing certain services (mainly the cost of housing and supervising low-risk prisoners) from the state to local governments,” said Rebecca Delfino, political science professor at GCC.

Delfino says the defendant’s best argument is that the lawsuit is premature and it will take many months to resolve the case.

“By the time it works its way through the courts (next summer at the earliest) lawmakers will be working on the 2012-2013 budget which could restore all funding diverted this year, making the arguments in the lawsuit effectively moot.”

If the state doesn’t generate the anticipated sales tax revenue, school funding won’t be restored anytime soon.

“The $2.1 billion owed to schools amounts to $10,000 for every classroom in the state,” said CSBA President Martha Fluor at a press conference in Sacramento to discuss the lawsuit. “It’s money that could go toward restoring vital programs like sports, the arts, summer school, library services and after-school tutoring.”

The shortfall this creates for GCC is about $2.86 million, according to Nakasone. It’s a loss that he said contributes to the elimination of many classes, as well as this year’s winter session.

“I tried very hard to get into statistics and anatomy for about two to three semesters,” said Ani Avakyan, 24, psychology major. “I wasted a lot of gas and time going to school everyday not knowing if I was going to get enrolled and these are classes that I need to transfer.”

The current economy has continually forced the school to compensate for the deficit. The allocation to community colleges has fallen short for years and is still spiraling downward.

“I believe that schools and colleges should be of the utmost priority to ensure a well-educated and functional society,” said Zach Barber, 27, fire tech major. “Budgetary downfalls impede many students from achieving their academic goals and prove to have dire effects on our future.”

GCC has already reduced classes and the state has increased tuition from $26 per unit to $36. Without Proposition 98, there would be no regulation of how much funding will go to education. This would create inconsistency and could likely increase tuition to $66 per unit, as the school discussed earlier this year.