School lands were granted by the United States to California in 1853 to benefit public education. They included the 16th and 36th sections of every township. In some cases, the 16th or 36th sections were exempted from the grant because of prior claims or other reasons. In these cases, California was given the right to select other federal lands as compensation. These other lands are known as in-lieu or indemnity lands. Today, the federal government owes California approximately 51,000 acres of indemnity lands.
More about school lands
Title to school lands passed to California upon approval of the U.S. Township Survey Plats, subject to the above exceptions. In 1927, the 1853 grant was amended to include minerals underneath School Lands. California, like the other states, was required to use the lands to support the public school system. In 1984, the California Legislature enacted the School Land Bank Act, requiring the Commission to take all action necessary to fully develop school lands into a permanent and productive resource base. Revenue from school lands is deposited in the State Treasury for the benefit of the State Teachers’ Retirement System. School lands are generally located in the California desert and are what remain of the nearly 5.5 million acres granted to California by Congress in 1853 to benefit public education. Today, the Commission manages the surface and mineral ownership of hundreds of thousands of acres of school lands.
For in-lieu lands, California was given the opportunity to select replacement lands from the United States in cases where sections 16 and 36 were "mineral in character" or preempted for other various reasons. For each transaction, the process involved several steps. First, California filed a list with the federal government describing the reason the lands in the 16th and 36th sections could not have been transferred to California. The lands on that list are known as base lands. Next, California filed another list with the federal government describing other federal lands selected in place of these base lands. When the list of selected replacement lands was approved by the United States, a Clear List was issued to California. Once a Clear List was issued, California’s rights to the base lands were relinquished back to the federal government, and title to the selected lands became vested in California. No federal patents to California were required under this grant. The Clear List was the document of conveyance.
Some areas of California (generally remote desert and mountain areas) have not been fully surveyed, and therefore contain land which will become subject to the school lands grant at the time of a future survey. Some in-lieu lands have not been selected. However, the majority of the lands acquired under this grant were disposed of over the past 120 years.
Proposed BLM/SLC Land Exchange
The Commission and the Bureau of Land Management are pursuing an exchange of state and federal lands in the California desert that will protect conservation lands, facilitate renewable energy development, and provide immediate and ongoing revenue for California’s retired teachers.
On October 1, 2015, the agencies signed a memorandum of intent for a proposed land exchange of approximately 61,000 acres of non-revenue generating school lands in federal wilderness and other conservation areas for approximately 5,600 acres of federal lands with the potential for, or previously developed with, renewable energy facilities. The lands are located in San Bernardino, Inyo and Riverside counties and within the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) planning area. The exchange supports DRECP goals and will help protect and conserve desert ecosystems while facilitating appropriate renewable energy development. In 2012, the SLC and BLM agreed to pursue exchanges that consolidate scattered school lands into contiguous parcels for renewable energy development. The Memorandum of Intent is consistent with this agreement.
- Press Release
- Memorandum of Intent
- Staff Report
- Proposed BLM/SLC Land Exchange Phase I Map
- Data Basin Map: BLM to SLC / SLC to BLM
- Photo Gallery (Flickr)
Below is a list of counties where there are no school lands. It is intended as a guide only. Parcels may be added or deleted at any time via exchange, in lieu selection, or survey of previously unsurveyed townships. Questions regarding the current status of specific parcels should be directed to Jim Porter in the Land Management Division. There are no school lands in: Alameda, Butte, Calaveras, Contra Costa, Kings, Marin, Merced, Orange, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sierra, Solano, Stanislaus, Sutter, Ventura, and Yolo Counties.
Each year, the Commission reports to the Legislature and the Governor on its management of school lands. This report provides details about the school lands program and includes a financial picture of the past year’s activities.