Claiming that the state has manipulated the formula used to determine the minimum constitutionally-mandated funding levels, the California School Boards Association filed a lawsuit in the State Superior Court, Sacramento County on September 22, 2015. California Sch. Bds Association v. Cohen. At issue in this case is Art. XVI, § 8 of the California Constitution, popularly known as Proposition 98, that California voters approved in 1988 and that requires the state to spend a minimum share of its budget on public schools and community colleges every year.
In 2011, the state legislature decided to move funding for most child-care programs, totaling about $1.1 billion, out of the portion of the budget covered by the Proposition 98 guarantee for fiscal 2012. This action lowered the minimum guarantee for that year by re-calculating the base amount in the Proposition 98 formula going back to 1986-87, and allowed the state to reduce education spending by more than $1 billion. When it approved a fiscal 2016 budget this year, the legislature moved $145 million allocated for those programs back into the Proposition 98 budget, but in doing so, it failed to “rebench” the original base amount. If it had done so, according to the plaintiffs, the minimum guarantee this year would have been $150-180 million higher.
The plaintiffs make clear that they do not object to child care funding or to including these funds in Proposition 8 calculations. Their concern is that if the state is allowed to selectively rebench the calculations that are used to determine the minimum funding guarantee, it will manipulate and reduce the minimum spending guarantee whenever it chooses and thus render the “guarantee” of Proposition 98 essentially meaningless. They state that such a result would “inject the kind of politically-created instability into state education spending that Proposition 98 was intended to eliminate.”