Prop Zero
The Starting Point for Commentary and Coverage of California Politics

Message to Schools: Time to Defy the State

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    NEWSLETTERS

    I've just read the full text of the new state education law known as AB 114 -- and am glad I'm not a school district supreintendent or school board president.

    Because if I were, I'd probably defy the law and invite the state to sue me or deny me funding.

    AB 114 has a worthy goal: preventing more layoffs of teachers.

    But to do so, it ties the hands of local school districts when it comes to cutting their budgets, at a time when their resources are limited (and may become more limited).

    The districts are required to maintain existing teacher staffing levels and other program levels, even if cuts come.

    They can cut the school year -- but only with approval of teachers' unions.

    Maybe these restrictions are manageable. But local school districts should be rightly worried about the precedent here.

    If AB 114 stands, what's to stop the state from coming back next year and tying their hands even more? What's to stop the state from driving districts into bankruptcy? (And yes, cynics will want to answer here: the state could make a law restricting school district bankruptcies).

    Which is why this may be the best moment for school districts to revolt. Ban together and declare they won't abide by the law.

    Make the case to the public that the state legislature is dictating policy to your local schools.

    If the state wants to sue them, go right ahead; the districts will have a variety of legal and constitutional arguments they can pursue.

    If the state wants to deny them funding, the districts should take the state to court. (In the event of a fight, school districts could also make public statements to the effect that state legislators who signed on to this bill aren't welcome on their campuses).

    Picking this fight isn't as wild and crazy as it sounds. Gov. Jerry Brown, in signing the bill, left the door open, with a vague pronouncement that the law shouldn't restrict the ability of school districts to manage their finances.

    Districts should seize on that -- and cut as they see fit.

    Civil disobedience may be scary.

    But since the only other choice for some struggling districts may ultimately be insolvency, what choice do they really have?