California State Budget Crisis Bonus: Education Mandate Edition

The California Legislative Analyst Office calls for an end to state-level education mandates to save money:

California has an elaborate system for identifying mandates and reimbursing local government agencies, including school districts and community colleges, for performing related activities. Currently, the state has more than 50 education mandates, with each mandate requiring school districts and/or community colleges to perform as many as a dozen specific activities. In 2009—10, these education mandates are estimated to cost a total of more than $200 million. When coupled with a pending mandate relating to high school science graduation requirements, annual costs total more than $400 million.

California’s process for identifying mandates creates major problems for schools, community colleges, and the state. At the local level, districts are required to perform hundreds of activities even though many of these requirements do not benefit students or educators. The existing mandate system also can reward districts for performing activities not only inefficiently but ineffectively. Making matters worse, the state’s system for funding mandates is broken. Oftentimes, districts claim vastly different amounts for performing comparable activities. Moreover, the state does not pay for these activities on a regular basis, instead deferring district reimbursements to future years. As a result of these deferrals, which were deemed unconstitutional by a superior court in 2008, the state owes roughly $3.6 billion in outstanding mandate claims (including the high school science mandate, which more than doubled the backlog). In short, districts are required to perform hundreds of activities—many of dubious merit—without regular pay, resulting in billions of dollars in state debt. . . .

By relieving schools from performing the vast majority of K—14 mandate requirements, our package of recommendations would result in more than $350 million in annual savings.

The state hasn’t been paying for these mandates anyway so in most cases it makes sense for school districts to abandon them.

Lisa Snell is the director of education and child welfare at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.