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State Supreme Court to Hear CSBA-led Case on Unfunded Education Mandates

In CSBA v. State of California, plaintiffs challenge State’s refusal to pay school districts and county offices of education for mandated programs and services


SACRAMENTO, Calif., (Apr. 19, 2018) Yesterday, the California Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging the State’s use of unfunded mandates to avoid paying schools for required programs and services. The announcement marked the latest development in CSBA v. State of California, a case filed in 2011 by the California School Boards Association and its Education Legal Alliance, along with the Castro Valley Unified School District, the San Diego Unified School District, and the County Offices of Education for Butte and San Joaquin counties.

“Unfortunately, the State has a long and troubling history of saddling school districts with expensive mandates without providing the money needed to pay for the new requirements,” explained CSBA President Mike Walsh. “This violates not only provisions of the State Constitution and the principle of local control, but also common decency when California ranks near the bottom nationally in school funding and our schools are struggling to cope with rapidly rising costs.”

CSBA is challenging statutes which instruct schools to use existing funding sources to pay for programs and services that would require an additional financial outlay. In one instance, the Legislature told schools to use unrestricted funding as “offsetting” revenue to pay for expenses associated with expanded science requirements. That mandate increased the number of science classes needed for a high school diploma and included lab science courses as a graduation requirement at a time when many high schools did not have the appropriate facilities or equipment for the newly required courses. In another example, the state directed schools to use existing special education funding to pay for a new “Behavioral Intervention Program Mandate” for students with emotional or behavioral difficulties.

This practice violates California Constitution, article XIII B, section 6, which says that, “Whenever the Legislature or any state agency mandates a new program or higher level of service on any local government, the State shall provide a subvention of funds to reimburse that local government for the costs of the program or increased level of service,” with certain exceptions not pertaining to education funding.

In an amicus letter to the California Supreme Court, SI&A, a firm that provides mandated cost reimbursement services to school districts through the state, expanded on this point. “The basic purpose of the mandate requirement in the Constitution is to require the State to pay for any programs that it imposes on local governments, including school districts,” SI&A wrote. “There are two reasons for this: 1) In the aftermath of  constitutional restrictions on taxation and spending (articles XIIIA and XIIIB), local governments and schools have very limited resources and very limited options for raising additional funds; 2) The obligation to pay for mandated programs makes the State think twice before it imposes new programs on local governments.”

Contrary to this reading, a January 2016 Appellate Court decision found that the Legislature may consider funds it already provides schools, which includes local tax proceeds, as offsetting revenue and that the State need not provide additional funding to pay for new mandates. CSBA and its fellow plaintiffs petitioned the California Supreme Court to review this matter, which will now be taken up on appeal.

“The fact that the state’s highest court will consider this claim validates the significance of the case and reinforces our hope for a favorable resolution,” said CSBA CEO & Executive Director Vernon M. Billy. “We took this action to provide relief for cash-strapped school districts and county offices of education and to prevent the state from further depriving them of funds needed to support public school students.”


CSBA is a nonprofit association representing nearly 1,000 PreK-12 school districts
and county offices of education throughout California.