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CSBA Education Legal Alliance wins a major victory in the interpretation of Proposition 98 in the case of CSBA v. Cohen 

CSBA and its Education Legal Alliance won a major victory last week in the interpretation of Proposition 98 in the case of CSBA v. Cohen, et al. Proposition 98 was approved by voters in 1988 to ensure a guaranteed minimum spending level each year for K-12 public schools and community college districts. It ensures that public education has a stable and predictable source of funding that grows with the economy and state General Fund revenues.

In 2011, the State excluded most childcare costs from Proposition 98 by statutory amendments that deleted childcare costs from the costs that would count toward the Proposition 98 minimum guarantee. In the 2015 budget, the State amended the statute to again count some of the previously excluded childcare costs toward the Proposition 98 minimum, but did not adjust, or rebench, the formulas in Proposition 98 to include these increased costs in the amount of spending requirement for that year. Essentially, the State claimed credit for childcare spending that had been previously counted as outside-of-education spending without raising the minimum funding guarantee to education, effectively circumventing the minimum funding level promised to public education. CSBA is in full support of the State’s spending on childcare and wraparound services, but is opposed to the manipulation of the formula to use this childcare spending to effectively lower the amount guaranteed to public education.

CSBA challenged this action as a violation of Proposition 98, arguing that any education spending that satisfies Proposition 98 should also be included in the calculations that determine the spending requirement and that the state’s effort to redefine education spending was contrary to the constitutional requirements. The court agreed and concluded that the principles included in the implementation legislation contemporaneously enacted in 1989 accurately reflect the requirements of Proposition 98, and that the state’s actions in the 2015 budget, unlike what the state did in 2011, violated those requirements.
The court’s ruling is extremely important for the interpretation of Proposition 98, as it requires the state to interpret the measure consistently from year to year. The court has precluded the State from manipulating the minimum guarantee simply by defining certain costs as in or out of the calculations. The State is expected to appeal the decision.