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Tax Plan To Increase State Aid to Schools Fails in California

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The California legislature's failure to increase support for local school districts this year has resulted in a reduction in the number of class periods, the imposition of fees for transportation, and the elimination of programs throughout the state.

The legislature had been considering a bill that would have increased taxes on alcohol and tobacco and raised about $430 million to cover scheduled cost-of-living increases for the schools. The sponsors of that bill, however, were unable to garner enough votes to pass the measure before the legislature adjourned on Aug. 30 because many legislators were reluctant to support tax increases during an election year.

Paul McGuckin, an aide to the state senate's education committee, said some legislators would have risked supporting the measure had they believed it had a chance of passing. "Some were willing to take the heat if it helped the schools," he said.

But few were willing to risk the "double whammy" of supporting higher taxes and losing, he added.

The tax bill was one of a number of unsuccessful proposals pushed by Citizens for Education, a coalition of education groups, to raise money for the schools.

School districts with multi-year teacher contracts that included cost-of-living increases will have the most difficulty doing without the additional funds the bill would have provided, according to Robert E. Wells, legislative advocate for the Association of California Administrators.

Education expenses across the state have increased by an average of 3 percent for this year, not including cost-of-living increases, he said. Enrollment, according to the state department of education, may increase slightly, for the first time in over a decade.

State aid, on the other hand, increased by about 1.6 percent. But school districts were expecting to receive an increase of about 6.9 percent for the 1982-83 school year, according to Leonard W. Creidt, spokesman for the California Teachers' Association.

"There's some confusion because school districts began developing their budgets on that basis," he explained, adding, "now they're having to do some heavy adjusting."

Mr. Wells contended that the tax measure would have provided local school districts with only about half of what the state is required to provide under state law. "School districts are in trouble even if they didn't promise salary raises," he said.

School districts were required by law to adopt final school budgets last week; to compensate for the shortfall, many will be implementing new fees for transportation and athletics in addition to eliminating music and art classes, according to Mr. Wells.

Districts that did not reduce the school day to five class periods after the 1978 enactment of the statewide property-tax-cutting measure, Proposition 13, will be forced to do so this year, Mr. Wells said.

Recognizing the precarious financial position of local school districts, more than 50 state legislators have asked Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. to convene a special session after the November elections to consider additional aid for the schools. So far, according to Mr. McGuckin, "there is some indication that he will" agree to the request.

California, despite its $8 billion in state aid for education this year, is now ranked the lowest among the states in the percentage of personal wealth spent for schools.

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