Dear Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and Mr. John Cox:
On behalf of the San Benito High School District located in Hollister, California, we are sharing a message of grave importance to our school district and many other districts in our great state. As a district, we are in support of CSBA’s (California School Boards Association) call to action, referenced in this letter, regarding Proposition 51.
In November, Californians will head to the polls and elect one of you as our state’s next governor. The election of California’s governor is an expression of our democracy and a reflection of the voters’ will. Two years ago, the voters overwhelmingly approved Prop. 51 to provide $7 billion for the renovation, modernization and construction of K-12 schools and to fund facilities for charter schools and Career Technical Education programs. The California School Boards Association urges the next governor — whomever he may be — to respect the will of the voters and release the funding they approved for the betterment of public schools. Every day during the academic year, California’s public schools welcome more than six million students. Our schools are living laboratories designed to impart knowledge and promote intellectual curiosity, help develop our state’s pipeline of workers and mold the next generation of civic leaders to serve as the caretakers of our democracy. In our classrooms, children learn how to read and write for the first time, discover robotics, participate in apprenticeship programs, study science and chemistry, or develop their artistic talents. It’s essential that we provide our students with the best possible learning environment for these formative experiences.
Voters, particularly parents, have an expectation that their local school districts, with state-funded assistance, will make every effort to meet the needs of students and communities by building and modernizing schools. How do we know? Because they already declared this at the voting booth with their resounding approval of Prop. 51. Yet, in the last two state budgets combined, only 20 percent of the promised Prop. 51 money has been made available to school districts and county offices of education, leaving them unable to address their pressing facility needs. In essence, the state has defied voters by withholding funding for building and modernizing schools. This manipulation of the initiative process by the state undermines our students, subverts our democratic principles and values, and erodes trust in state officials and state agencies.
We call upon the next governor of California to uphold the will of the voters and support students by promptly authorizing the release of the full $7 billion in K-12 school facilities construction and modernization funds approved by voters in 2016. California’s Office of Public School Construction currently has a backlog of more than $3.5 billion in approved school construction and modernization projects — projects where local communities are paying a share of the costs — which await state funding. Many of the schools in the queue have been there far too long — in some cases, several years — waiting to put shovels in the ground or to be reimbursed for past projects so that new ones can begin.
San Benito High School District is currently in the queue for $25.4 million via Prop. 51 monies. The state’s delay in releasing this voter-approved funding has not only created great concern for our school district and community, but all of our current facilities needs cannot be met without your support. It is time to take action and support school districts, such as San Benito High School District, as we strive to meet the needs of our students.
Another recession is inevitable and, given the length of the current economic expansion, will likely occur during your term as governor. So, not only does CSBA’s call to release the voter-approved bond funds make good policy sense, it makes good economic sense as well. California should move quickly to harness the economic boon and job creation that comes with $7 billion worth of school construction and modernization projects. Trickling these funds out at a snail’s pace actually costs taxpayers more as interest rates and construction costs increase over time. The benefits of Prop. 51 funding to students and local communities are as varied and expansive as the local communities that populate our state. From safeguarding against natural disasters like earthquakes or fires, to capital investments designed to bolster campus security, many of the projects awaiting funding are designed with student safety and academic achievement in mind. If we want our students to succeed, we have to develop facilities that are conducive to academic success. Californians have already voted “Yes” to providing facilities that prepare students for success in college, career and civic life. We are asking you, as the next Governor of California, to say “Yes” to our students and families, “Yes” to the sanctity of our initiative process and “Yes” to our democratic principles by committing to the full and complete release of Proposition 51 funds.
Shawn Tennenbaum, Ed.D.
San Benito High School District