Assembly OKs $25 billion education bond issue for November and 2004 ballots

By Stefanie Frith The Associated Press
Thursday March 21, 2002

SACRAMENTO — By an overwhelming margin, the state Assembly Thursday approved placing $25.3 billion worth of education bonds before voters this November and in 2004, sending the issue to the state Senate. 

The Assembly voted 71-6 for the bill, which authorizes the placement of two bond measures before voters. A $13 billion bond proposal will go on the November 2002 ballot and would be followed in 2004 with a $12.3 billion bond issue. 

That’s about three times higher than the record $9.2 billion bond voters approved in 1998. That money has been spent, however. 

Gov. Gray Davis wants a bond issue on the November ballot, spokeswoman Hilary McLean said, so “students well into California’s future will benefit from the school improvements this bond will fund.” 

The bond’s passage is “the biggest thing we’ve done since I took office,” said Assemblyman Robert Hertzberg, a Van Nuys Democrat and former Assembly speaker. 

“Everything that’s great about California starts with its schools and our kids,” said Hertzberg, co-author of the bill, said. 

He predicted the measure — which was ultimately agreed upon by a bipartisan conference committee — will pass the Senate easily. 

The bill will go to the Senate the first week of April and Dave Sebeck, a spokesman for Senate Pro Tem John Burton, said Senate members will debate and act on it that day. 

The Office of Public School Construction estimates that more than $21.1 billion in state bonds are needed in the next four years for K-12 school construction alone. 

Also, the state estimates that California Community Colleges will teach nearly 2 million students in the next two years and more than 75 percent of its buildings are more than 40 years old. 

To cope with population growth, the state Department of Education estimates that California will need more than 2,500 classrooms each year for the next four years. 

Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin said that if California expects children to meet the state’s academic standards, “we must provide them with a safe, clean and modern environment in which to do so.” 

Money from the bonds will help low-performing and overcrowded schools, design upgrades and expand buildings at community colleges, and campuses of the California State University and the University of California. 

Dwayne Brooks, director of facilities for the California Department of Education, said this bill also allows school districts to apply for funds of up to four years, plus a one-year extension. 

That will help school districts pay for land on which to build schools, Brooks said. The bond deal would also set aside $1.7 billion for critically overcrowded schools. 

Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson, D-Culver City, called the vote a victory for California’s children. 

“In order to learn, a child truly needs good teachers, and we have that,” Wesson said. “They need the proper tools and an environment conducive for learning. And this takes care of the environment.” 

Wesson pointed out that more than 60 percent of K-12 classrooms are over 25 years old, more than 60 percent of UC buildings are at least 30 years old and more than 75 percent of community college facilities are over 40 years old. 

Districts around the state have passed local school bonds and are starting construction, but more than $4 billion in projects have been held up because no state matching funds have been available, according to the Department of Education.