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CA Supreme Court Declines to Support Schools in Unfunded Mandates Case

CSBA will continue fight for Full and Fair Funding on other fronts


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Dec. 19, 2019) – Earlier today, the California Supreme Court upheld an appellate court’s decision that inhibits the ability of schools to provide the programs and services needed to offer all students a high-quality education. In its ruling, the Court determined that the Legislature may consider funds it already provides schools as offsetting revenue and that the State need not provide additional funding to pay for new mandates.

The Court wrote that, “[a]lthough CSBA asserts that the [Graduation Requirements] funding designation leaves school districts with less unrestricted money to provide general education programming and that the [Behavioral Intervention Plans] funding designation diminishes the amount of funds available for other special education services, these general claims of insufficient funding, without more, do not make out a constitutional violation.”

“We took this action to provide relief to 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,” said CSBA President Xilonin Cruz-Gonzalez. “California dramatically underfunds its public schools in ways that negatively impact student achievement — a fact this court has acknowledged in previous decisions. Schools are robbing Peter to pay Paul and failing to reimburse them for unfunded mandates places additional burdens on already insufficient resources. We are disappointed in the Court’s decision and will continue to pursue Full and Fair Funding for California’s public schools through the Legislature and through all available means.”  

The case was originally filed in 2011 by CSBA and its Education Legal Alliance, along with Castro Valley Unified School District, San Diego Unified School District and the County Offices of Education for Butte and San Joaquin counties. CSBA challenged statutes that mandated programs and spending by local districts, but instructed schools to use existing funding sources to pay for the programs and services. 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.

CSBA argued that 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 its decision, the Supreme Court recognized that the purpose of the mandate requirement in the California Constitution is to ensure the State pays for any programs it imposes on local governments, including school districts and county offices of education, but found that the language of article XIII B, section 6 does not preclude the Legislature from adjusting the mix of state funding allocated for unrestricted versus mandate purposes. The Court noted that it is conceivable that increased compliance costs imposed by the state could become so great that the funded program benefits would not cover the cost of complying with the mandate, which likely would be a constitutional violation, but the Court did not find the state mandates at issue in violation, even if some districts have had to make difficult decisions and cuts to other programs to meet the requirements of these state mandates.

To view the Court’s decision in California School Boards Association v. State of California, click here.



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