Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing a massive overhaul of school funding formulas to put more resources where they are needed most: in low-income communities and other places where children need extra help to get a good education and the money will do the most good. It's unquestionably the right approach -- and the governor ought to apply it to his proposal to allocate revenue from Proposition 39.
Voters passed the measure this past fall to eliminate an outrageous tax break for out-of-state companies. It's expected to generate $1 billion a year, half of which is supposed to pay for clean-energy upgrades to public buildings.
Brown wants the money entirely for schools, since energy savings can be shifted to instructional budgets. But he would spread it among all districts on a per-student basis, without regard to need. That's the simplest method, but it's not the smartest. As the governor says, treating unequals equally isn't justice.
Lawmakers have proposed better alternatives. Senate Bill 39, authored by Sen. Kevin De Leon and Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg, should be the model.
De Leon wants the first few hundred million dollars for upgrades already identified in the settlement of the Williams lawsuit, which accused the state in 2004 of failing to provide adequate public school facilities. This repair list is dominated by energy needs -- such as upgrades to heating, air conditioning and windows -- a perfect fit for Proposition 39.
Lawmakers never approved funding for the work, and the ACLU and Public Advocates, which filed the lawsuit, have asked Brown to adopt this approach.
Schools on the list are in low-income communities -- the same schools Brown wants to help with his school finance reforms. Wealthier communities already have done much of this work or can pass bond measures for it. They also have less need for the jobs the projects would create.
As this work begins, De Leon would direct state agencies with expertise in energy programs and school construction to develop simple criteria for awarding the rest of the money, more than $2 billion over five years. Amazingly, the state doesn't have a full list of school facilities; creating one would be a good use of taxpayer funds.
The money would be spread evenly by county. However, only buildings in low-income areas and most in need of repairs -- those that would save taxpayers the most -- would receive it. They'd have to report the results of the work in a more robust way than Brown has proposed.
Brown's one-size-fits-all plan would be simpler, but De Leon's doesn't have to be complex. Voters approved spending as much as 4 percent of Proposition 39 revenue on administration, and De Leon's plan spends less than that.
It's a worthwhile investment with a great return to taxpayers through job creation, lower energy bills and cleaner air -- and more money for instruction in schools that need it most.