A budget-related bill that Gov. Jerry Brown signed Thursday has sparked a division within the education community as school districts push to reverse new protections for teachers.
Lawmakers rushed Assembly Bill 114 to the Senate floor and passed it out of both houses in the final 45 minutes of session Tuesday night, as we reported Thursday. The bill protects teachers from further layoffs in the new fiscal year. It also requires districts to ignore the possibility they could lose $1.5 billion in classroom funding in December -- equal to about $250 per student -- as well as $248 million in school bus money.
Teachers say those protections ensure stability through the school year and prevent districts from preparing for the worst when they don't have to. District officials say those requirements handcuff their ability to plan for a midyear reduction. They are also frustrated by a provision that suspends requirements that districts show how they balance their budgets for three years.
Two groups that represent school districts sent letters this week to Brown. School Services of California, which advises districts across the state on fiscal matters, wrote that the budget itself is unstable and that AB 114 "adds insult to injury by gutting these critical fiscal oversight provisions, and we believe, will put hundreds of school districts at risk of insolvency in the future."
The California School Boards Association penned a letter Thursday to the governor, urging him to clean up the bill with subsequent legislation.
In the letter, the group suggests it may consider legal action against the state for possibly underfunding Proposition 98 through a sales tax shift to counties. Many school officials believe an undercurrent of AB 114 was that the California Teachers Association could have challenged the state if lawmakers had not protected teachers and offered to repay schools $2.1 billion in future years.
"The version of the bill that was voted on was never heard in any committee, nor was it made available for public review and comment, leaving those responsible for the fiscal solvency of local school districts at a loss," CSBA said in a release.
In response, Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, issued a letter Thursday that agreed with CSBA's complaints, noting, "In our view, there are many troubling provisions in AB 114 that inappropriately reduced school funding and restricted the flexibility of independently elected school boards."
Conway did not say whether she would propose legislation to roll them back, though any GOP attempt would likely fall flat given that the two parties did not work together on the budget.
Not all school fiscal representatives were angry. Kevin Gordon, a veteran schools lobbyist, said, "I would prefer that this would not be a part of the bill, but if it was what was necessary to get us a budget without cuts in (funding) to schools this year, in the entire context of what we've been through, this is language we need to live with."
Democratic leaders who crafted the budget downplayed the concerns.
Brown said in his signing message that districts should "take all reasonable steps to balance their budgets and to maintain positive cash balances." While AB 114 requires districts to assume they will receive the same funding level they did last fiscal year, Brown suggested they could still institute cuts if they were short on funding for other reasons, such as less money from the federal government or enrollment declines.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, embraced the bill during a Senate floor session.
"If the charge is that we went out of our way to avoid (having) more teachers lose their jobs and avoid class size increases, guilty as charged," he said.
Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.