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Election 2016 FAQ: Proposition 51, Public School Facility Bonds

Proposition 51.
California Counts
Proposition 51.

Proposition 51 allows the sale of $9 billion in bonds to pay for new K-12 and community college facilities See a list of all our proposition explainers here.

California Counts is a collaboration of KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio to report on the 2016 election. The coverage focuses on major issues and solicits diverse voices on what's important to the future of California.

The basics


Roughly 6 million students attend K-12 public schools in California, and about 2 million students are in community colleges. Many students are taught in old buildings and classrooms that need to be replaced or at least fixed up. Other students live in growing communities where new schools are needed.

Proposition 51 wants to address these needs by allowing the sale of $9 billion in general obligation bonds to pay for building and modernizing K-12 and community college facilities.

It’s the first school bond measure on the state ballot since 2006. It’s unusual because it’s sponsored by the building industry. Typically, the Legislature would be the path for getting this kind of proposition on the ballot, but it hasn’t been able to do so in recent years.

What you're voting on

About $7 billion (nearly 80 percent) would be allocated for K-12 public school projects. These include brand-new construction, as well as modernization of older buildings, with things like air conditioning, new roofs and upgrading security.


Roughly $2 billion would be allocated for community colleges. That money could go toward any facility project, including buying land, constructing new buildings, modernizing existing buildings and purchasing equipment.

In order for a K-12 public school district to get the bond money, it would submit its proposed project to the state’s Office of Public School Construction. A community college would go through the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. In most cases, approved projects will require that the district or community college provide local funding as well.

In addition, Proposition 51 would allow developers or homebuilders to pay only half the cost of a school construction project, even if that project benefits their housing development.

From 1998 through 2006, voters approved four state facility school bonds that provided $36 billion for K-12 schools and $4 billion for community colleges. Voters haven’t seen a state school bond measure since. As a result, California has almost no money left for these kinds of projects.

Proposition 51 would replenish the state’s coffers. However, the Legislative Analyst’s Office calculates that if it passes and the $9 billion in bonds were sold at an average interest rate of 5 percent, the total cost to pay off the bonds would be $17.6 billion — $9 billion in principal plus $8.6 billion in interest.

Who are the supporters and opponents?

Supporters include developers, builders, school board officials and business groups.

Gov. Jerry Brown hasn’t taken a position, but in the past has been critical of this approach to funding school construction projects.

Critics of the measure note that developers and home builders wouldn’t have to contribute any money to pay for construction costs, even though those projects may be serving families who have purchased homes in their developments. Opponents include taxpayer advocates.

Fiscal impact — by the League of Women Voters of California Education Fund

The total cost to pay off the bonds plus interest would be $17.6 billion. Payments of about $500 million would be made each year for about 35 years.

Supporters say — by the League of Women Voters of California Education Fund

• Many of our schools need repairs and upgrades to make them safe for our children.

• Proposition 51 will improve education overall and help expand space at community colleges so more students can attend.

Opponents say — by the League of Women Voters of California Education Fund

• Proposition 51 would add to the state’s debt, which is already more than $400 billion.

• Bond measures should be passed locally, giving communities control of how money is spent.

How much is being spent on the campaigns?

Corrected: December 9, 2022 at 8:39 PM PST
This article has been updated to correct how community colleges would apply for Proposition 51 funds and to add information on how much developers or homebuilders would be required to pay for school construction.
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