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Calif. Schools Chief, Teachers’ Union Sue Governor Over Funding

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California state schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell and the California Teachers Association took their battle with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger over the state budget to the next level Aug. 8 by filing a lawsuit that charges the governor with failing to provide schools with money they are guaranteed under state law.

Filed in superior court in Sacramento, the lawsuit asks that Mr. Schwarzenegger come up with $3.1 billion. That sum, Mr. O’Connell said in a press release, “would enable us to keep 100 schools open that are slated to be closed, to save class-size reduction in all K-3 programs, and to extend that program to the 4th grade.”

The lawsuit refers to a deal made between the governor and education groups in January 2004, in which he borrowed $2 billion from the state’s Proposition 98 education funding formula to help balance the budget until California’s economy improved. Because the budget for the current fiscal year, 2005-06, which began in July, was calculated based on that lower level of funding as well, the amount the state now owes schools for two years has reached $3.1 billion, according to the suit.

The complaint, according to a statement from CTA Vice President David A. Sanchez, “is meant to force the governor to honor his word, the will of the people, and to ensure California students get no less than the minimum school funding guaranteed under our constitution. The governor hasn’t just broken a promise, he’s broken the law.”

Won’t ‘Stand Up’

But H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the California finance department, contended that the lawsuit was unlikely to “stand up in court” because the nonpartisan legislative analyst’s office, as well as the legislature, agreed to the 2005-06 budget.

“Two branches of government came to the same conclusion,” Mr. Palmer said.

Had the Proposition 98 formula been followed, he added, schools and community colleges actually would have received about $750 million less than the $50 billion they are slated to receive. According to the governor’s office, Proposition 98 funds have increased by $3 billion over the 2004-05. An initiative passed by voters in 1998, Prop. 98 establishes a minimum level of funding in the state constitution for schools and community colleges. It sets a base level of funding that is adjusted year to year based on attendance and enrollment growth.

“If the formula would have automatically been able to run its course, there would have been a lower level of funding,” Mr. Palmer said. “[Gov. Schwarzenegger] didn’t want to let that formula shortchange the schools.”

Three public school parents also joined the case on behalf of their children. In the press release from the CTA, Amelia Juarez, a mother of four, said that in her city of Moreno Valley, east of Los Angeles, the school district is growing by more than 1,000 students each year, and that funding is a problem.

“Class sizes are increasing, and we are down to bare bones when it comes to assisting kids,” she said. “I believe the governor should follow the law and return money to the public schools based on the law and his agreement.”

The CTA is an affiliate of the National Education Association. At the NEA convention in Los Angeles last month, Reg Weaver, the president of the 2.7 million-member union, said the national office was sending staff members and resources to help the CTA campaign against other spending proposals of the governor’s, including a new 401(k)-type pension plan for teachers and other state employees that Mr. Schwarzenegger plans to put before the voters in a special election this November.

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