Nine years ago, as part of the landmark Williams settlement, the state promised school districts $800 million to fund the Emergency Repair Program (ERP), established to help schools address facility conditions that pose urgent threats to students’ health and safety.
As of today, the state has failed to honor that commitment. In fact, the state hasn’t even come close, falling short by $462 million. For each of the last five years, the state has made a net contribution of $0 to the ERP. As a result, schools have been languishing in the funding queue.
Most people probably don’t think “state budget” and “exciting” belong in the same sentence. But for anyone who cares about California students, there is exciting news tucked in the governor’s recent 2014-15 budget proposal.
On Friday, the governor proposed that the state finally take a significant step forward by including $188.1 million for the ERP in his budget. It is critical that the legislature embrace this proposal because the funds are direly needed.
In a 2013 ACLU SoCal report (Williams v. California: Lessons From Nine Years of Implementation) administrators across California made abundantly clear that a school facilities crisis is imminent unless the legislature funds the ERP. And last week, the Sacramento Bee revealed that schools in Twin Rivers Unified School District are suffering from precisely the sort of facilities deficiencies that the ERP was meant to address, as hundreds of students sat in freezing classrooms without working heat.
With improving economic conditions and urgent health and safety needs in public schools going unaddressed throughout the state, there is no excuse for further delay. We commend Governor Brown for his leadership and look forward to working with him, the legislature and other stakeholders to secure these funds and deliver the Williams promise of equal educational opportunity for all.
David Sapp is staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California.