In a nutshell: The cupboard is bare when it comes to voter-approved state bonds for school construction and modernization projects. Legislators and education groups have been trying to get a new bond on the ballot, but have run smack into an evolving gubernatorial doctrine that calls for an end to statewide bonds for local school needs.
Even so, the idea of a 2016 school bond has some legs, though it comes in just under the historical benchmark (60 percent) that most believe any ballot measure needs at the outset of a campaign if it's to be successful, the belief being that voters tend to lose -- not gain -- interest in propositions as Election Day nears.
Given how much talk there's been about how different "likely voters" are from the overall public, supporters of a 2016 school bond would certainly hope to grow the electorate; and with a presidential race on next November's ballot, that's certainly a possibility. Using that lens, the PPIC poll shows very few weak spots of support -- mainly more wealthy, white, older Californians.
(And yes, they're the ones who traditionally vote more often … hence the lower support among likely voters in the survey.)
But what this new snapshot doesn't answer is whether the details matter -- the size of the bond, the kinds of construction and modernization projects. The poll simply asks about support for "a bond measure on the ballot."
"I think these are good numbers," said Joe Dixon of the Coalition for Adequate School Housing. And if anyone's watching the polls, it's Dixon and others in his group. They've been waiting for a new school bond. And waiting. And waiting.
The quest for a new statewide school bond has been blocked before at the state Capitol by the governor, who made it known in 2014 that he didn't want another bond competing alongside Proposition 1 (the $7.5 billion water bond). There was also a sense that too much borrowing -- that is, too much new state debt -- wasn't exactly what Brown wanted on his re-election ballot when he was touting his debt reduction efforts since 2011.
As such, education groups have all but abandoned the Legislature (even though there's a bond measure bill that's pending). They've drafted their own school bond initiative, a $9 billion proposal, and are already gathering signatures to get it on the ballot.
"It is our go-to plan," said Dixon, an assistant superintendent of the Santa Ana Unified School District.
As for Brown, his January budget suggested a rethinking of how to pay for school modernization and construction. But since raising the question, there's pretty much been dead silence. The governor largely suggested more reliance on local, not state, measures to boost schools.
But those local efforts have had a lower success rate. Unlike the simple majority required on all statewide ballot measures, local school bonds require approval by 55 percent of the ballots cast -- a lower threshold than in the years before 2000, but still high enough to make them a harder sell.
And that makes the finding in PPIC's new poll -- 53 percent of likely voters would support a local school bond in their area -- not a great option for bond backers.