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Immigration and Population Growth Strain School-Construction Budgets in California

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By Reagan Walker

Increased birthrates and immigration in California will push public-school enrollments much higher than expected over the next half-dozen years, further intensifying the state's need for more classroom space, Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig said last week.

A record 4.6 million children entered the state's public schools last week, Mr. Honig said at his back-to-school press conference. Within six years, he predicted, that total will increase by 1 million.

"If we started today, we would have to build almost 13 classrooms every day, including weekends and holidays, through 1996 just to stay even," Mr. Honig said.

"And remember," he added, "California already has the most crowded classrooms in the country."

The state finance department now projects an average annual increase of 160,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade--20,000 more per year than the agency's population experts were predicting a year ago.

The department based its increased projections largely on ris4ing fertility rates among black and white Californians, as well as on a continuing high birthrate among Hispanics.

"The nature of public education is quite simply put: A baby born today needs a school desk in just a few years," Mr. Honig said.

A Push for Funds

In a letter to Gov. George Deukmejian, Mr. Honig has described the situation as a "crisis" and pushed for more state funding for school construction.

More than $5 billion in applica8tions for local school construction is awaiting state assistance, Mr. Honig said, adding that the backlog is expected to grow at a rate of about $100 million a month.

Failure to move ahead with school construction could force many districts to move to year-round school sessions, he said.

The superintendent urged that general-obligation bond measures be included on next year's June and November election ballots.

Two $1-billion school-bond issues for those elections are pending in the legislature, but they are competing with bond-issue requests by other state agencies.

The Governor has been reluctant to place too many bond issues before the voters in a single election.

State voters approved an $800-million school-bond measure in June last year, and another $800 million last November. But, Mr. Honig said, those funds already have been committed to new construction.

Although Proposition 98, approved by voters last year, assures public schools and community colleges at least 40 percent of state general revenues, those funds cannot be used for construction.

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