School Repair Program Stagnates with Millions Unspent

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

California has had a lot of shoddy schools for a long time. That’s why the state settled a landmark lawsuit, Williams v. California, eight years ago by setting up an $800 million repair fund to fix health and safety hazards, and improve dilapidated campuses (often in low-income areas).

The Emergency Repair Program should be wrapping up about now, but instead it sits inert with half of its money unspent and hundreds of schools unsure if they’ll get funds already requested.

Schools were already crummy in 2002 when the ACLU filed a lawsuit that was bitterly contested by Governor Gray Davis. The lawsuit’s contention was: “Tens of thousands of children attending publics schools located throughout the state of California are being deprived of basic educational opportunities available to more privileged children attending the majority of the state’s public schools.”

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger settled the suit in 2004 after Davis was recalled.

California treats the program like it is part of the general education budget, leaving it to compete for dollars that are already in short supply. Consequently, the state has only spent $338 million—and not much of that lately—while 700 schools clamor for aid.

Some years the program gets no funding. Sometimes, in the past, the state removed some already-existing funds to pay for other things. This past year, Governor Jerry Brown wanted to toss $12.3 million at the program, but the Legislature opted for zero dollars.

So far, no one has taken the state back into court. The ACLU acknowledged the budget crunch in a 2009 update on the status of the lawsuit they helped bring, but warned it would not back down from claiming the settlement’s entire mandate.

But recently, ACLU attorney Brooks Allen told The Bay Citizen, “It’s an extremely dire budget environment where we’re trying to argue for something people feel, well, we can kind of punt this for a little bit.”

–Ken Broder


 To Learn More:  

State Defunds Program to Fix “Slum” Schools (by Joanna Lin, The Bay Citizen)

Schools' Funding Status under the Emergency Repair Program (California Watch)

Williams v. California: A Progress Update, 2009 (ACLU) (pdf)

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