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Suits in Calif. Ask Full Funding of State-Mandated Programs

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Sacramento, Calif--"If the state of California mandates a school program and doesn't fully fund it, the program isn't mandated."

That comment, made last week by William Cunningham, superintendent of schools in Sacramento County, reflects the view of his county's 16 local superintendents as they initiate action to sue the state for failing to provide funds for programs it requires.

A similar suit, but limited to special education, was initiated last week by Santa Barbara County's office of education. It seeks state funding for all costs of state-mandated special-education services that go beyond the requirements of federal programs.

School Districts Included

The state, the Sacramento County superintendents believe, breaks its own law by requiring activities it does not pay for. As proof, Mr. Cunningham cited this sentence from the state constitution: "Whenever the legislature or any state agency mandates a new program for a higher level of services on any local government, the state shall provide a subvention of funds to reimburse such local government for the cost of such programs or increased level of services." Mr. Cunningham believes that "any local government" includes school districts.

"We want to put an end to deficit funding," Mr. Cunningham declared. "It's a copout by the state. We believe the legislature is as obligated as anyone else to obey state laws."

Half the districts in the county have already approved their superintendents' plans to go ahead with the suit. Approval by the others is expected by the end of the month, Mr. Cunningham said. Directors of the Sacramento County School Boards Association unanimously adopted a motion backing the suit earlier this month.

"We hope to get county offices of education and school districts throughout the state to join us," Mr. Cunningham said.

"We're all going broke," he continued, "and the legislature mandates programs and then only partially funds them. As a result, we have to take money from our reserves, and there are no reserves any more."

The Sacramento County superintendent pointed out that "there is an anticipated $52-million statewide deficit this year in funding state-required programs for handicapped children." Special education, he added, is just one of several areas where state funding fails to support state requirements.

'Local Option'

"If the state requires activities without funding," he contended, ''the decision to comply or not should be a local option."

A spokesman for the Education Commission of the States in Denver said that the legal attack by Sacramento and Santa Barbara counties against the state's practice of mandating school programs and activities without providing funding to support them may be the first of its kind in the nation.

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