SACRAMENTO — A far-reaching $1.5-billion education finance bill that has drawn strong opposition from Los Angeles because it would direct funds from big-city schools into suburban and rural school districts fell one vote short of passage Tuesday in its initial test before the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
With Los Angeles lawmakers leading the opposition, the bill, needing 12 votes to pass, went down on an 11-6 vote. Missing when the votes were counted was Assemblyman Pat Nolan (R-Glendale), a key Republican who helped put the compromise school funding bill together. Nolan left the committee hearing early to fly home to Southern California to present an award to a graduating high school senior in La Canada on Tuesday evening.
Since Nolan is expected to return to the Capitol today, supporters believe that they will have enough votes to pass the bill out of committee.
But the setback shows that the compromise school funding plan has a long way to go before it becomes law.
As it is, the bill does not contain all the elements of the deal that was put together by rural and suburban legislators. Parties to the compromise said there was agreement that it would be amended on the floor of the Assembly, and then undergo further changes as it moves through the Senate.
"There is still a lot of negotiating taking place," said Assemblyman Robert J. Campbell (D-Richmond), who helped negotiate the package with Nolan and others.
The bill would implement Proposition 98, the landmark public school and community college funding measure approved by voters in November.
It would provide schools with a total of $557 million for this fiscal year, a figure that includes $251 million for a basic 4.6% increase in state aid to all school districts and an extra $120 million this year for schoolbooks and maintenance.
In the next budget year, which actually begins July 1, the bill would provide an additional $952 million to schools.
Next year's allotment would set aside roughly $300 million to give school districts throughout the state a more equal share of the billions in financial aid going into more than 50 special education programs.
It is that provision that has drawn strong opposition from the Los Angeles Unified School District, the largest and most politically influential district in the state, because it would deny the city school system a proportional split of the financial pie.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers from throughout the state support the plan because they argue that Los Angeles Unified is now getting far more than its fair share of state financial aid going to schools.
Hoping to counter those arguments, John Mockler, the lobbyist for Los Angeles Unified, told the committee Tuesday that Los Angeles has special needs because of its inner-city student population. Mockler said that Los Angeles Unified enrolls 13% of the state's kindergarten through high school students, but has a disproportionate 20% share of the state's school-age children from welfare families and 27% of California's non-English speaking students.
Five of the six votes cast against the bill were registered by Los Angeles Democrats.
The bill is being carried by Assemblywoman Teresa P. Hughes (D-Los Angeles), chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee. Although students in her district attend Los Angeles schools, Hughes said that she felt a responsibility to schoolchildren throughout the state and argued that the bill overall was a good one. "Hold your nose and vote 'aye,' " she told her colleagues.
Meanwhile, state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig and legislative leaders continued to charge each other with standing in the way of a broader budget agreement.
Honig, in a morning press conference, appeared with members of PTA groups, teachers' unions and other supporters of public schools to denounce what they said was an effort "to dismantle Proposition 98."
Honig, under fire from legislative leaders for refusing to compromise, said he will not give in to suggestions by lawmakers that schools give up the guarantee of 40% of the state budget that they won with Proposition 98.
'Must Think We Are Crazy'
"They must think we are crazy if they think we are going to roll over," Honig said.
Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) responded angrily that "Mr. Honig has been a participant in the (proposed) repeal" and is critical only because lawmakers are refusing his plan to amend the measure.
Senate Republican Leader Ken Maddy of Fresno said, "He's sick and tired, and we're sick and tired."
Maddy and Roberti, along with leaders of the Assembly, met again with Gov. George Deukmejian Tuesday in an effort to work out a budget agreement. Roberti said "a lot of work is left" to do before an agreement is reached.