Would California schools actually be better off if Proposition 98 had never come into being? Why is it still so important to understand? And where do we go from here to fulfill the initiative’s promise of bringing state spending per student to the top ten among states? 

On this show, we’re big believers in the axiom that to get where you want to go, you need to understand where you’ve been. That’s why we’re making a special journey this episode into the recent history of school funding in California. Think of these as Ed Funding’s formative years. 

Our special guest Kevin Gordon, President of Capitol Advisors, helps us explore this history, including the mother of all state ballot measures, California's Proposition 98. The measure sought to lift California school spending to among the top ten states in the nation, but for many reasons, we’re still not there. When it appeared on the statewide ballot in 1988, Prop. 98 barely passed – by less than one percent of the electorate. 

What led up to the measure, and what impact has it had on education in the 30-plus years since, both good and bad? Kevin takes us through the politics as well as the intricacies of this notoriously complicated measure. To help break it down, Kevin also takes our “60 Second Challenge” to explain the basic mechanics of how Proposition 98 works.

More about Proposition 98
Approved by California voters in 1988, Prop. 98 established a minimum guarantee for school funding in the state constitution. It was intended both to be a floor that funding would never fall below, and a formula for ultimately growing funding over time to the top ten among states.

“The problem,” Kevin says, “is as soon as it got implemented, the legislature was always trying to figure out, what does it take just to do the minimum – and once they do the minimum, check the box, we’re done. And that’s what happened: it became a funding cap instead of a funding floor.”

Proposition 98 began 30 years of what the State’s Legislative Analyst Office later referred to as, “A plethora of tests and rules that govern the minimum guarantee.” Read the Legislative Analyst Office report, “A Historical Review of Proposition 98” from January 2017.

More Resources

  • For a terrific (albeit sobering) 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.
  • Ed100.org is a 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.
  • Edsource provides timely, useful and accurate information about a range of major education issues, including school funding. 


More about Kevin Gordon

Widely viewed among the top education advocates in California, Kevin is the President and a founding partner of Capitol Advisors Group. He formerly served as Executive Director of CASBO, and as the Chief Lobbyist and Assistant Executive Director of the California School Boards Association (CSBA). He also served as Chief of Staff to Congressman Robert T. Matsui and as a legislative advocate for the California Building Industry Association (CBIA). He holds a master's degree in public administration from the University of San Francisco.

About CASBO

The California Association of School Business Officials is the premier resource for professional development and business best practices for California's school business leaders. CASBO is dedicated to promoting excellence and professionalism in all aspects of school business.