Credit: Office of the Governor of California
Gov. Newsom speaks with students at Ethel Phillips Elementary in Sacramento, who officially dated the bond measure that he authorized Monday. Behind Newsom is the bill's author, Assemblyman Patrick O'Donnell.

Saying he hoped voters will “get this thing passed by historic numbers,” Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation Monday that will place a $15 billion construction bond covering pre-K through higher education facilities on the March 2020 state ballot.

“The goal is self-evident. You improve the conditions, you ultimately improve the quality of the educational experience,” Newsom said in a signing ceremony at Ethel I. Baker Elementary, a low-income school in Sacramento. “Success in education is synergistic with the environment.”

The bond — the largest state school bond to date in California ­— will include $6 billion for higher education, split evenly among community colleges, California State University and the University of California. An additional $9 billion will go to K-12 schools. For the first time, districts will be eligible for matching dollars for preschool facilities they build or renovate. Districts whose facilities have lead in drinking water, have other pressing health and safety issues or need seismic repairs will get priority for the money, he said.

While the last several state bonds have split the funding between new construction and renovations, modernization will get the bulk of the $9 billion — a point that Newsom emphasized.

“Sometimes we get a little too captured by the shiny object of new and don’t do enough to address the needs of the temporary shacks in the back or the facilities where roofs and HVAC systems are in desperate need of upgrades,” he said.

Modernization will receive $5.2 billion and new construction $2.8 billion. As in the past, funding will be on a matching basis, with a dollar-for-dollar district contribution for new construction and a 60 percent state to a 40 percent local match for renovations and modernization projects. The bond would earmark $500 million for career technical education projects and $500 million for charter school facilities.

Newsom’s staff intervened late in the session to negotiate substantial changes to Assembly Bill 48, authored by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee. Most significant is an end to the first-come-first-served process of allocating state building assistance, which former Gov. Jerry Brown and the Department of Finance said favored wealthier and larger districts with staff to get applications in first.

In its place will be a system that will push small districts needing financial help and low-income, low-property-wealth districts farther ahead in line for a larger share of state dollars.

“What I am particularly proud of is the focus on equity,” Newsom said. “As I traveled across this state, I cannot tell you how many folks in the Central Valley and other parts of this state frankly felt that they had been left behind as it relates to access for their participation in these bonds.”

Newsom indicated that there was “stubborn” resistance to changing the allocation rules. “None of this was easy. You have very well-endowed and well-resourced folks that like the old ways of doing business. They had to give a little, and we are grateful to them for giving a little.”

The bond measure will establish a new scale that measures a district’s capability to fund school construction. It will combine a district’s bonding capacity per student and the proportion of high-needs students using the same measure for extra state money under the Local Control Funding Formula. Along with receiving priority for funding, districts with a high score will get a slightly higher percentage of state matching money, a 65 percent state match, instead of the standard 60 percent.

Newsom said he is fully confident “people will do the right thing and support this bond,” which he said “transcends politics.”

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