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K-12 Funds Held Steady As Calif. Budget Passes

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California lawmakers have approved a budget that will hold most K-12 spending steady while passing much of the fiscal sacrifice on to counties and cities.

But local governments, which stand to lose $2.6 billion in property taxes to the state, are vowing to resist the spending plan.

The $52.1 billion budget passed last month was noteworthy because it cleared both earlier--barely two weeks after the state deadline--and with less political squabbling than in recent years. Further, observers said, the budget's modest revenue forecasts may also head off future shortfalls.

School officials predicted that the level funding for education would still mean cuts in some school districts. They also acknowledged, however, that public schools had fared well in light of a statewide spending cut of more than 6 percent.

Student fees at the University of California, for example, will rise by $630, or 22 percent, over last year.

"The cuts that schools will have to make as a result of this budget will be modest compared to what they could have been, and it's helpful to know the bottom line in a timely manner,'' said William D. Dawson, the acting superintendent of public instruction.

The budget will provide $4,187 in per-pupil funding during the next school year, a slight decrease from the $4,209 this year. It does not include any increases based on inflation or growth in categorical funding, except for special education.

Technical changes included in the budget bill may lessen the impact of the lack of revenue growth, however. One would stop schools from paying administrative fees to property-tax collectors, for an estimated savings of about $60 million in fiscal 1994.

Another change would single out average daily attendance as the only variable that will be used in calculating school funding--a move that will simplify budget forecasting for local school administrators, state officials said.

Counties Resist Shift

While Mr. Dawson and others said the new budget signals yet another year of decline for California education as compared with other states, their complaints have been overshadowed by a growing political and legal dispute over the property-tax issue.

The budget's main balancing device was the $2.6 billion shift in local property-tax receipts. The money went from county coffers to the state to meet its obligations under Proposition 98, the constitutional provision that requires that 40 percent of the state's general-fund revenues go to K-14 education.

By last week, 20 counties had passed ordinances refusing to transfer the property-tax funds. Others were on their way to passing similar measures, which have been endorsed by state associations representing local governments.

Officials in Los Angeles County filed papers in superior court there last week challenging the transfer, a move that also may be repeated elsewhere in the state.

The lawsuit argues that Proposition 98 is a state responsibility and cites prohibitions against transferring local revenues to pay for state obligations.

"Since they sit there with the votes, the state can rationalize this any way they want,'' said Victor Pottorff, the deputy executive director of the California State Association of Counties. "There were a lot of other things that could have been done.''

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