LOS ANGELES — California should create a grant program supported by the state's general fund to pay for school construction and maintenance instead of relying on voter-approved bonds, according its non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office.
The program the LAO recommended in a Wednesday report would be structured similar to Gov. Jerry Brown's local control funding formula, where districts receive funds based on student enrollment and district need.
Brown has been advocated scrapping the program in which state GO bonds are issued to help fund K-12 school and community college construction projects since early last year. He reiterated this stance in the budget proposal he submitted in January.
"The LAO's report highlights many of the issues and concerns that the administration has made in recent years as to why the existing system of school facilities is not sustainable in the long term," said H.D. Palmer, a state Department of Finance spokesperson.
The LAO said it shares the governor's concerns on several specific criticisms the administration has made related to the current bond program. Those include an "overly complex administrative apparatus comprised of at least 10 state agencies, highly prescriptive facility requirements that hamper local planning and flexibility, and insufficient recognition of the expanded local revenue available since the passage of Proposition 39."
Proposition 39, passed in 2000, lowered the threshold school districts need to pass most GO bond measures to 55% from two-thirds.
The LAO's proposals go further than Brown's by recommending that funding be issued through grants from the general fund, said Jeff Vaca, deputy executive director of governmental relations for the California Association of School Business Officials.
"The governor and the Department of Finance have been careful not to pin themselves down on the source of funding," Vaca said.
CASBO "still thinks that bond financing is the responsible way to fund school facilities," Vaca said. "I would not want to see facilities funding coming from the general fund."
Educational lobbyists teamed with school building firms filing a ballot initiative on Jan. 12 for a $9 billion state school facility bond measure to be placed on the ballot in 2016.
The LAO report mentions that throughout the state's history there has been a lack of consistent, steady funding for school construction.
"Looking at the ups and downs in the general fund over the past 15 years, I don't know how this proposal gets us closer to that goal," Vaca said.
Voters have approved $35 billion in statewide general obligation bonds since 1998 to construct or renovate K-12 schools, but the program used up the bond authority for its two core programs, new construction and modernization in 2012. The state still had $286 million in bond authority remaining for seismic repair, charter school construction and for energy-efficiency projects as of November 2014, according to the LAO's report.
Brown has said he won't support a new school bond authorization under its current structure.
Vaca anticipates long discussions between the state legislature, the governor and educators before a solution is crafted and said it probably will not happen this year.
"We look forward to continuing discussions with the Legislature and with stakeholders on a new financing system that reflects the principles and recommendations spelled out in the governor's budget," Palmer said.