Proposition 39

School Facilities. 55% Local Vote. Bonds, Taxes. Accountability Requirements.

Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute


Property Taxes

The California Constitution limits property taxes to 1 percent of the value of property. Property taxes may only exceed this limit to pay for (1) any local government debts approved by the voters prior to July 1, 1978 or (2) bonds to buy or improve real property that receive two-thirds voter approval after July 1, 1978.

School Facilities

Kindergarten Through Twelfth Grade (K-12). California public school facilities are the responsibility of over 1,000 school districts and county offices of education. Over the years, the state has provided a significant portion of the funding for these facilities through the state schools facilities program. Most recently, this program was funded with $6.7 billion in state general obligation bonds approved by the voters in November 1998.

Under this program, the state generally pays:

In addition to state bonds, funding for school facilities has been provided from a variety of other sources, including:

Community Colleges. Community colleges are part of the state's higher education system and include 107 campuses operated by 72 local districts. Their facilities are funded differently than K-12 schools. In recent years, most facilities for community colleges have been funded 100 percent by the state, generally using state bonds. The state funds are available only if appropriated by the Legislature for the specific facility. There is no requirement that local community college districts provide a portion of the funding in order to obtain state funds. However, community college districts may fund construction of facilities with local general obligation bonds or other nonstate funds if they so choose.

Charter Schools

Charter schools are independent public schools formed by teachers, parents, and other individuals and/or groups. The schools function under contracts or "charters" with local school districts, county boards of education, or the State Board of Education. They are exempt from most state laws and regulations affecting public schools.

As of June 2000, there were 309 charter schools in California, serving about 105,000 students (less than 2 percent of all K-12 students). The law permits an additional 100 charter schools each year until 2003, at which time the charter school program will be reviewed by the Legislature. Under current law, school districts must allow charter schools to use, at no charge, facilities not currently used by the district for instructional or administrative purposes.


Provisions of the Proposition

This proposition (1) changes the State Constitution to lower the voting requirement for passage of local school bonds and (2) changes existing statutory law regarding charter school facilities. The constitutional amendments could be changed only with another statewide vote of the people. The statutory provisions could be changed by a majority vote of both houses of the Legislature and approval by the Governor, but only to further the purposes of the proposition. The local school jurisdictions affected by this proposition are K-12 school districts, community college districts, and county offices of education.

Change in the Voting Requirement. This proposition allows (1) school facilities bond measures to be approved by 55 percent (rather than two-thirds) of the voters in local elections and (2) property taxes to exceed the current 1 percent limit in order to repay the bonds.

This 55 percent vote requirement would apply only if the local bond measure presented to the voters includes:

Charter School Facilities. This proposition requires each local K-12 school district to provide charter school facilities sufficient to accommodate the charter school's students. The district, however, would not be required to spend its general discretionary revenues to provide these facilities for charter schools. Instead, the district could choose to use these or other revenues--including state and local bonds. The proposition also provides that:

Provisions of Related Legislation

Legislation approved in June 2000 would place certain limitations on local school bonds to be approved by 55 percent of the voters. The provisions of the law, however, would take effect only if this proposition is approved by the voters. These provisions require that:

These requirements are not part of this proposition and can be changed with a majority vote of both houses of the Legislature and approval by the Governor.

Fiscal Effect

Local School Impact

This proposition would make it easier for school bonds to be approved by local voters. For example, between 1986 and June 2000:

Districts approving bond measures that otherwise would not have been approved would have increased debt costs to pay off the bonds. The cost to any particular district would depend primarily on the size of the bond issue. (See box for the impact on a typical property owner.) The total cost for all districts throughout the state, however, could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually within a decade.

State Impact

The proposition's impact on state costs is less certain. In the near term, it could have varied effects on demand for state bond funds. For instance, if more local bonds are approved, fewer local jurisdictions would qualify for hardship funding by the state. In this case, state funding would be reduced from 100 percent to 50 percent of the cost for a new local school. On the other hand, there are over 500 school jurisdictions that do not currently participate in the state school facilities program. To the extent the reduced voter-approval requirement encourages some of these districts to participate in the state program, demand for state bond funds would increase.

In the longer run, the proposition could have a more significant fiscal impact on the state. For instance, if local districts assume greater funding responsibility for school facilities, the state's debt service costs would decline over time.

The actual impact on state costs ultimately would depend on the level of state bonds placed on the ballot in future years by the Legislature and the Governor, and voters' decisions on those bond measures.

Charter Schools

The requirement that K-12 school districts provide charter schools with comparable facilities could increase state and local costs. As discussed above, districts are currently required to provide facilities for charter schools only if unused district facilities are available. The proposition might lead many districts to increase the size of their bond issues somewhat to cover the cost of facilities for charter schools. This could also increase state costs to the extent districts apply for and receive state matching funds. The amount of this increase is unknown, as it would depend on the availability of existing facilities and the number and types of charter schools.

Return to Initiatives and Propositions

Return to Legislative Analyst's Office Home Page