Education Code Section 7054 prohibits K-12 and community college officials from spending public funds "for the purpose of urging the support or defeat of any ballot measure or candidate ."
The state Supreme Court cited that law three years ago in ruling that it was illegal for a teachers union to use school district facilities to distribute political literature.
Throughout California, however, school officials are sullying the intent of the law by using official communications to plug passage of Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's sales and income tax increase.
One of many examples: Deborah Bettencourt, superintendent of the Folsom Cordova Unified School District in suburban Sacramento, sent a letter to parents and district employees warning "if the governor's Proposition 30 doesn't pass in November, we will again be faced with the reduction of the instructional year by up to six additional furlough days, a loss of learning time that will impact current students and their performance ."
That's a virtual replay of the argument that Brown and his allies are making in their campaign ads and literature.
In the same vein, the California State University system has drafted letters for applicants for admission saying, "Because enrollment capacity is tied to the amount of available state funding, the campuses will be able to admit more applicants if Proposition 30 passes and fewer applicants if the proposition fails ."
The letter continues, "the CSU budget would be less likely subject to cuts, and potentially could be increased in future years" if Proposition 30 passes.
Just Tuesday, the University of California at Berkeley announced a Proposition 30 Awareness Project to test the use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media to distribute information about the measure.
Ken Goldberg, an engineering professor, said in the announcement, "Although the outcome of this vote has an enormous potential impact on students, alumni, teachers, parents and employers, many are not aware of Proposition 30. The California Proposition 30 Awareness Project aims to change that."
It's quite understandable why school boards, university officials and administrators want Proposition 30 to win. Brown and state legislators have decreed that schools and colleges would suffer a $6 billion loss of funds during this fiscal year should it fail.
Nevertheless, the law against using school facilities and funds for political purposes remains on the books, and the 2009 Supreme Court decision indicates it's to be strictly applied. Moreover, it's a law grounded in good public policy.
If public funds and public facilities can be used to promote Proposition 30, it places California on a very slippery slope, leading to taxpayer-financed political propaganda.