Liv Ames for EdSource
Kindergartener Aiden Rios, right, helps classmate Emma Anderson plug in her earphones to her computer so Emma's amplified voice can't be heard.

Our children spend up to a third of their time in school. It is our responsibility as California citizens to make sure they have a safe and healthy learning environment.

Celia Jaffe

That is why California State PTA strongly supports Proposition 13, the $15 billion statewide bond on the March 3 ballot, that would authorize Funds to repair, modernize and construct facilities for K-12 schools, community colleges and universities. This measure does not raise state taxes.

It is unacceptable for our children to spend their school days with

  • Dangerous asbestos and toxic mold.
  • Lead in the pipes making drinking water unsafe.
  • Insufficient electrical outlets to use for current technology needs.
  • Buildings not upgraded for earthquake safety.

All of our children deserve safe facilities that are well equipped to meet their academic and health needs.

This bond supports funding to upgrade facilities in case of earthquakes and other emergencies and to reopen schools following major disasters, including wildfires. It supports funding for space in schools for nurses and counselors to increase student access to health care and mental health services. Investments can also be made to modernize job, career and vocational training facilities, including for veterans returning from duty.

In past bonds, money was allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, allowing larger and better funded districts to get at the head of the line. This bond makes safety, health and school district needs a priority component of the allocation process.

California State PTA supports this new emphasis of allocating money based on the needs of students. Health and safety projects will have the highest priority — followed by applications from districts that have difficulty raising local money for school improvements and projects that address lead in the water. The state typically covers 50 percent of facilities upgrade costs.

During the Great Recession of 2007 to 2013, schools suffered extreme budget cuts and, in many cases, put off important repairs in favor of covering immediate operating expenses. As a result, there is a backlog of needs for repairs and modernization. Addressing these needs can be accomplished without undue borrowing. According to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, Proposition 13 would have little effect on California’s debt-service ratio because previous bond debts are being retired. “The cost to pay off the bonds is about one-half of 1 percent of the state’s General Fund budget.”

This state school bond does not raise anyone’s local property taxes. Do not let any other commentaries confuse you on this point. A state bond is paid by the state using general fund resources over many years. This bond would require the state to make annual payments over 35 years of about $740 million from an annual budget of about $200 billion.

Good local schools increase surrounding property values, and many communities around the state will benefit from funding for their school facilities through this state bond. If a local school district wants to take advantage of state modernization funds to improve their school facilities, then the school district will need to raise matching funds, which may be from savings, a previous property sale, developer fees or perhaps their own local bond. Any local bond, currently or under new rules from this measure, requires a vote of local citizens, and a 55 percent approval at that.

The bottom line is that California’s students need and deserve safe, healthy, modern learning environments. Prop. 13 brings much-needed facilities funding to local schools and to our higher education systems without raising taxes.

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Celia Jaffe is the president of California State PTA

The opinions in this commentary are those of the author. It is one of a series of commentaries EdSource is publishing expressing a range of views on the school bond measure on the March 3 ballot. As a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization EdSource takes no position on the ballot measure. Read other perspectives here.

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