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A win for Jerry Brown in school budget fight

March 27, 2012 |  6:21 pm

Gov. Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown scored a rare court victory in the legal war over California's budget on Tuesday when a judge defended the state's reduction in school funding.

The ruling disappointed school advocates and pleased the Brown administration, which has suffered several setbacks as judges block cuts to healthcare for the poor.

The legal fight stems from Brown's effort to fund realignment, a sweeping effort to route low-level offenders to local jails to reduce overcrowding in state prisons.

To pay for the plan, Brown and the Legislature last year moved $5 billion in revenue from the sales tax and vehicle license fees into a separate account. Because that lowered the amount of money in the state's general fund, it reduced funding for public schools under Proposition 98, the voter-approved constitutional amendment that requires the state to spend roughly 40% of its budget on K-12 education and community colleges.

In response, a coalition of school groups sued the state, saying they were being shortchanged $2 billion.

But Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn said the state didn't do anything wrong.

"Nothing in the language of Proposition 98 or its ballot materials precludes the Legislature from assigning revenue to a special fund that previously had been deposited in the general fund," he wrote.

The ruling is temporary and a hearing will be held Wednesday in San Francisco. But it's unusual for judges to backtrack, and Bob Wells, executive director for the Assn. of California School Administrators, said the group would appeal Kahn's final decision.

Wells said the ruling risks invalidating the purpose of Proposition 98.

“If the Legislature wants to avoid the restrictions of Prop. 98, they would simply transfer all the general fund revenues into another fund," he said. "The reason voters put Prop. 98 into the Constitution was to stop those workarounds."


California's budget faces new legal challenges

In bid for support, Gov. Jerry Brown modifies school proposals

LAO report: Mixed grades for Gov. Jerry Brown's school proposals

-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento

Twitter: @chrismegerian

Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown visits a Riverside elementary school last year. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times