State tax-rebate checks are starting to turn up in mailboxes and people are asking how to give the money back to the California's public schools where it should have gone in the first place.
We have done some asking on our own and discovered that, as with most things financial, there are don'ts as well as do's.
For openers, do not cash the check or deposit it to an account. Sign it on the back, endorse it, by name, to a school or school district, and mail it to the school or district. That is the fastest way to put the money to use in the public schools.
Do not return the check to the office of the state controller, Gray Davis. The best he can do with the dozens of checks that aren't endorsed to a specific school or to a specific district is turn them over to the state lottery fund, and even that approach is still being studied by the lawyers.
Do not mail the checks to the state education department. No matter how many taxpayers send checks to the department, the budget for public schools would not grow by one penny. Money collected from rebate checks would merely take the place of dollars that would have to be returned to the general fund.
If the check is endorsed to a school district, the money will be evenly distributed among all schools in the district, including those in low-income areas where parents or other taxpayers will likely find that they need the money for other things, even if their rebates are relatively small. The Los Angeles Unified School District has created a special trust to which checks can be mailed and districts in the state probably have done the same. A telephone call to the district will produce a name and address.
So far, the state has mailed only the smallest checks, $32 for a single person and $64 for a couple. The minimum check represents a pretty meager income in some households, yet already some people, including an elderly woman who mailed in a check along with a note saying she was worried about her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, have given.
Giving money back to government is not unheard of, but it does have a strange ring to it. But so did mailing out rebate checks, from money that exceeded a ceiling on state spending imposed 10 years ago, when it could legally have gone directly to the schools. Endorsing the rebate over to schools is the long way around, but if they are to continue education reforms and meet rising enrollments, they need all the help they can get.