More Key Moments in California School Funding History: A View From Inside the Capitol
Play • 26 min

How did California slide into such a deep school funding hole, and how can we climb our way back up? These are among the questions we take on in this latest adventure with special guest Gary Hart. 

As a former state legislator, longtime Senate Education Committee Chair, and Secretary of Education, Gary offers the critical perspective of someone who was “inside the Capitol building” during a truly pivotal time in the early life of Ed Funding.

He began his career as a classroom teacher before serving two decades in the state legislature at a time (1974-1994) when so many key events in school funding unfolded.  

What led to the dramatic disinvestment in California’s schools, beginning in the 1970s? Rising real estate values, bad economic times and a major change in the state’s demographics all contributed, according to Gary. He also reflects on whether there’s anything he wishes he might’ve done differently while in office to help change the downward trajectory of per-student funding. 

And what about Proposition 98? Former Sen. Hart takes some exception to characterizations that legislators and governors “manipulated” the Prop. 98 constitutional guarantee for schools, causing it to become more of a “ceiling” than a “floor” for per-student funding. 

“Ballot box budgeting,” he says, “is not a good system.” We also explore the sometimes shifting borders between how prescriptive the state used to be in telling local school districts how to spend their funds, and the relatively recent move towards more local control. 

As our adventure continues, Gary takes on the mountain that California faces to increase school funding to the levels needed to support all students. A more stable state revenue system must be identified, he says, especially so the state is not so disproportionately reliant on income taxes.

Finally, we consider whether, at the end of the day, increasing school funding comes down to whether or not those currently serving in Sacramento truly have the political will to take it on.

More Resources

For a terrific history of California’s school funding slide, we recommend the 2004 documentary, “From First to Worst” a production of the Merrow Report by award-winning journalist John Merrow. You can find it online. is a excellent free resource with concise, engaging online courses that help people understand complex education issues. Ed100 has an entire chapter on school funding, including a great lesson about Propositions 13 and 98.

About Gary Hart

Gary served in the California State Legislature as an assemblymember and senator for 20 years, representing Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. In his role as chairman of the Senate Education Committee (1983 to 1994), he wrote important education legislation concerning school finance, class-size reduction, and charter schools. He also served as the Secretary of Education for Governor Gray Davis. In addition, he has served on the board of directors for the Public Policy Institute of California for more than ten years, including as chair. In 1995, he founded the California State University Institute for Education Reform, a policy center focusing on elementary and secondary school issues. In 2001, he established the Program in America and California Explorations (PACE), an honors program at Kennedy High School in Sacramento. He obtained his MA in teaching from Harvard University and his BA from Stanford University.


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