What you need to know about the $9-billion school bond on the ballot


The first statewide initiative Californians will see on their ballots next month is Proposition 51, which would authorize $9 billion in school construction spending statewide.

If Proposition 51 passes, what could the money be spent on?

The bond measure breaks down like this:

  • $3 billion in new construction for K-12 schools
  • $3 billion in repairs for K-12 schools
  • $2 billion for community college facilities
  • $500 million for K-12 vocational education facilities
  • $500 million for charter school facilities

Supporters of the measure say the money will upgrade school technology, science labs and libraries as well as retrofit buildings for earthquakes and remove asbestos and lead pipes. The money also could be used for bigger ticket items, including school sports stadiums.


What’s it going to cost us?

The bonds will likely cost the state’s day-to-day operating budget about $500 million a year for the next 35 years, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Who is backing it?

A large coalition of business groups, unions, developers and politicians, including the California Chamber of Commerce, State Building and Construction Trades Council, California Building Industry Assn. and both the state Democratic and Republican parties.

Politicians in support include Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Why do its proponents say we need it?

School building needs are staggering, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Schools across the state need to spend between $4 billion and $8 billion a year on building replacement and upgrades assuming each facility lasts between 25 and 50 years, the LAO estimated.

The money would replenish the near-empty state funding source for school facility construction and upgrades, which requires matching dollars from local districts for projects to get built.

“Education is the first rung on any ladder to success and we cannot allow our children to face the added obstacle of trying to learn in conditions that are not safe or up-to-date,” Villaraigosa said in a statement when endorsing Proposition 51 earlier this month.


Developers also argue that state funding is preferable to cities charging fees on new construction to build school facilities, a method they say drives up the cost of housing.

Who’s against it?

Gov. Jerry Brown is the most prominent opponent, calling the measure “a blunderbuss effort” in a memorable statement last year.

Why do opponents say it’s a bad idea?

The measure locks in the state’s existing school-facilities funding system, which critics argue benefits large, affluent districts. The money is spent on a first-come, first-served basis, which prioritizes districts that put together applications the quickest, not the low-income neighborhoods that might need the money more, Brown’s director of finance, Michael Cohen, argued in a Sacramento Bee op-ed this month.

“The state’s school facilities program is fundamentally flawed,” Cohen wrote.

Didn’t I just vote on a school construction bond?

Probably so. Local K-12 and community college districts frequently put school construction bonds on the ballot, and they’re very popular with voters. About 80% of local school bond measures pass, and since 1998 voters across the state have approved about $85 billion in such measures, according to the LAO.

There has been no statewide school construction bond, however, since 2006.

What about the Proposition 51 campaign money?

The Yes on 51 campaign has raised $11.2 million with the largest contributions coming from developers, contractors, consultants, financial institutions and others who regularly promote school facility construction. Opponents haven’t raised any money.

What do the polls say?

There hasn’t been a lot of polling on Proposition 51. A Public Policy Institute of California poll last month had 47% of likely voters in favor, 43% against it and 10% unsure.


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