California's 6 million-student public school system is not only the largest chunk of the state budget that will be enacted this week by far but the major component of Gov. Jerry Brown's campaign for sales and income tax increases as well.
And if that isn't yeasty enough, the governor is also proposing huge changes in the way state school money is calculated and disbursed.
What emerges from all of this is impossible, even for political insiders, to predict.
If all goes as Brown plans, his aides say, California schools will see an average 47 percent increase in financing over the rest of his governorship, assuming it lasts another term.
However, were voters to reject taxes it's no better than a tossup the state's budget deficit would worsen and school spending, already among the lowest in the nation, could drop even further.
Education is the single most popular form of government spending, and Brown is playing the school card big time, both in his budget and in his tax increase campaign. The goal is to keep the California Teachers Association, his major ally in the tax increase drive, happy with the budget, while at the same time threatening huge cuts in school aid if the taxes fail.
Mac Taylor, the Legislature's budget analyst, and Brown's budget advisers are engaged in a complex verbal and legal duel over the state's obtuse school finance law, Proposition 98.
Taylor says that Brown's plan generates "nonsensical results," spending $1.9 billion more on schools in the 2012-13 budget than required, while proposing "trigger cuts" should the taxes fail that are $1.7 billion more severe than they need to be.
The Legislature is certain to take Brown's side because it works better politically, creating a $5.5 billion doomsday scenario for schools should taxes fail and thus, it's assumed, driving voters to approve the tax increase measure.
Brown and Taylor also sharply differ over structural changes in the Proposition 98 formulas, called "rebenching," and school officials are nervously watching Brown's effort to revamp school aid to give underperforming schools in poor communities more money but only if the taxes pass.
Brown's original "weighted formula" was modified in May to lessen its impact on affluent suburban schools.
Local officials have been parsing district-by-district impacts, learning who would be over and under the projected 47 percent average spending increase. So far, the Legislature is refusing to act.
And if that's not complex enough, wealthy civil rights attorney Molly Munger is financing a rival measure to raise income taxes by $10 billion-plus a year and give it all to schools, much more than the Brown plan.
She contends that while Brown says his measure would help schools, they would get little or nothing in net terms.