Teachers' unions are split on Proposition 1B education funding measure

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Proposition 1B on next week's special election ballot would dedicate more than $9 billion to California schools. That's to make up for legislators' cuts to education this year. You'd think all teachers would support a big cash infusion like that, but it turns out they're split on the issue. KPCC's Julie Small explains why.

Julie Small: Educators agree California's public schools need the money in Proposition 1B. That's why the California Teachers Association – the state's biggest teachers union – supports 1B. The Association's Dean Vogel talked about the ballot measure on KPCC's "AirTalk."

Dean Vogel: The $9.3 billion is the funds that would have come to public schools during this budget cycle. But what has happened is the legislature has basically taken it and used it for the deficit.

Small: Vogel says school districts have laid off thousands of teachers, nurses, counselors, and librarians.

Vogel: The public education system in California right now is struggling to stay alive. And what we're saying is we need the money back that you took from us.

Small: But wait a minute! Doesn't California's Proposition 98 guarantee minimum funding for schools? Yes – and no. Prop 98 sets aside a set percentage of state revenue for education each year.

But when the budget is in the red, Prop 98 lets lawmakers withhold school money – and pay it back later. That's what's happening now. But Michael Cohen with the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office says there's a dispute over how to interpret the law.

Michael Cohen: Sometimes under Proposition 98, if you provide a lower level of funding, you create an obligation to make future payments. And whether or not in the particular circumstances we're in this year creates that obligation to make future payments is what's under disagreement.

Small: Dean Murakami says Proposition 1B tries to duck that fight.

Dean Murakami: All they're doing is giving us money to shut us up.

Small: Murakami represents the California Federation of Teachers – the other teachers union in California, and the one that opposes Proposition 1B. Murakami says it doesn't answer the question of whether the state has to pay back the money it cut from schools this year. And, says Murakami:

Murakami: They're short-changing us on the money that is owed.

Small: That's why the California Federation of Teachers is suing the governor. It claims he already owes schools $12 billion. Murakami says when it come to getting money to public schools in California, the courts will get the job done faster that Prop 1B.

Murakami: This $9.3 billion that they're promising us in the Proposition 1B? We're not going to get it tomorrow. We're not going to get it at the end of the year. This is going to be given to us in drips and drabs over many years to come. If we fight the lawsuit, if we win, we will get the money faster.

Small: It's true that if Proposition 1B passes, schools won't receive a dime of the $9.3 billion for a couple of years. It's also true that the money in Prop 1B goes to schools only if Prop 1A passes. That measure provides the 1B money.

And if Prop 1B doesn't pass? California's public schools will be where they are now – fighting for money in a bad budget year.