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Californians Eyeing Funding 'Guarantee'

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California voters will decide next week whether to make their state the nation's first to set a guaranteed funding level for public schools.

If approved, Proposition 98 would prevent state school aid from falling below the larger of two amounts: the previous year's funding level adjusted for changes in inflation and enrollment, or the percentage of the general fund that was allocated to education during the 1986-87 school year.

Lawmakers would be forced to increase state school aid for the current fiscal year if the measure passes. Estimates of the amount range from $215 million to $796 million, reflecting uncertainty over the definition of the 1986-87 base-year budget.

Proposition 98 would also amend the state's constitutional spending limit. In years when revenues exceed the amount that the state is allowed to spend, a portion of the "excess" funds4would be earmarked for schools and community colleges.

Currently, the constitution's so-called Gann limit requires that all excess revenues be returned to taxpayers.

In addition, Proposition 98 would require school districts to issue report cards on each of their schools. The analyses would include at least 12 indicators, such as student achievement and the availability of qualified substitute teachers.

The proposition also calls on the legislature to establish a "prudent" budget reserve, although no specific definition is included.

Stable Funding

The California Teachers Association, the state's largest teachers' union, led the drive to place Proposition 98 on the ballot. It is also strongly supported by the California pta and by Bill Honig, the state superintendent of public instruction. Mr. Honig has donated a portion of his personal campaign fund to help win its passage.

Proponents of the measure argue that it would provide a stable funding base for education, enabling districts to undertake long-range planning without the budget uncertainties of recent years. They also say that its report-card requirement would increase local officials' accountability to taxpayers.

The opposition to the measure is being led by the California Taxpayers' Association, which has also resisted previous efforts to amend the state's rigid tax and spending limits. Gov. George Deukmejian and many Republican lawmakers also oppose the measure.

Opponents charge that passage of Proposition 98 could force the state to cut funding for other state services. And they say it would not ensure improvement in the quality of education in the state.--ws

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