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Drive for More School Funds Is Launched by Educators

November 17, 1987|DOUGLAS SHUIT | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — A teacher-led coalition of education interests began a new initiative drive Monday aimed at freeing school funds from the state spending cap and guaranteeing schools a fixed share of state revenues each year.

Formation of the coalition, which includes state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig, was announced by Ed Foglia, president of the 180,000-member California Teachers Assn., who said he hopes to qualify the measure for the November, 1988, ballot.

The initiative, which has been submitted to the attorney general's office for legal review, would amend the California Constitution to include a complex plan aimed at remedying complaints from teachers, school administrators and others that community colleges and public schools have been under-funded for years.

It would guarantee public schools and community colleges a minimum level of funding, tied to education spending during the 1986-87 budget year; provide annual increases tied to inflation and student enrollments, and take schools out from under the restrictive ceiling imposed by voters in 1979 on many areas of state spending.

Initiative Targets Surplus

The initiative also calls for future state budget surpluses to be used to reduce class size--now one of the highest in the nation--buy books, increase teacher salaries and make other improvements in the school system.

To help win public support, authors of the initiative would also provide for annual review of local schools--so-called accountability report cards that would chart student progress and the level of instruction.

The campaign will be run by Ross Communications, headed by Richard Ross, a one-time chief of staff to Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco).

A spokesman for Ross' firm, Marc Grossman, said a high-budget campaign is being put together to qualify and pass the measure, with teachers and others expecting to raise $4.5 million to cover the costs of circulating petitions, purchasing radio and television advertising and other expenses.

The teachers group, aided by the California Parent Teachers Assn., the Assn. of California School Administrators, several community college organizations and Honig, will begin circulating petitions in January.

Sponsors said that under the proposed initiative, schools would have received an extra $850 million to spend this year. Most of the additional funding would have come from $1.1 billion in surplus budget money scheduled to be returned to taxpayers over the next 2 1/2 months.

The teachers association, Honig and others already are backing another initiative to liberalize the spending limit and allow more room for school budgets to grow. They hope to put that initiative on the ballot in June. Foglia said he does not think that the new initiative drive will jeopardize passage of the June ballot measure.

Foglia, during a Capitol news conference, said a chief goal of the initiative was to guarantee schools a "reliable, relatively stable source of funding" similar to the state's formula for dispensing aid to California cities. He complained that the current state budget provides schools with a 3% budget increase, not enough to allow them to keep up with inflation and the 140,000 new students who are flooding the system.

Opposition could develop in Sacramento since the initiative would remove much of the authority the Legislature and governor now exercise over public school financing. The governor, who for much of the year battled Honig over the level of education spending, has expressed strong reservations over any measure that would tamper with the voter-approved spending limit.

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