Brown commits $1 billion for Common Core, sticks with funding formula
May 14, 2013 | By John Fensterwald | 28 Comments
Gov. Jerry Brown proposed Tuesday to direct all of the extra $2.8 billion in revenue that the state expects to receive this year to K-12 schools and community colleges, mostly for one-time uses, including $1 billion to implement the Common Core standards.
There had been projections of even more money this year, but in a news conference releasing his May budget revise, Gov. Jerry Brown tempered expectations; the drag of federal tax changes, sequestration of federal spending and new payroll projections had led the administration to lower its bottom-line estimates in the May revision of the state budget. Administration officials warned that the minimum guarantee for school spending, after rising to $56.5 billion in 2012-13, is projected to fall nearly $1 billion next year.
Brown is not suggesting any changes to the basic design of his Local Control Funding Formula, as suburban districts had hoped and Senate Democrats had proposed. Instead, he defended his sweeping school finance reform, which would direct significantly more money to low-income students and English learners, as “just.” And he juxtaposed the “moral power” of his plan, treating “unequals in a more equal way,” with the “political power” of the opponents.
Advocates for high-needs students praised Brown for sticking with the formula. “I’m extraordinarily pleased; the proposal, with the Common Core investment, is stunningly positive across the board,” said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Oakland-based Education Trust-West. EdVoice, a Sacramento advocacy group, called for the LCFF’s passage. “It’s time to enact a financing system that makes sense for students by transparently investing in programs and instruction where the students with the greatest need, and generate the extra resources, actually go to school,” said CEO and President Bill Lucia in a press release.
But Brown’s pitch to fairness didn’t silence critics who fault specifics of the plan while granting the rightness of the cause. “The Governor’s Local Control Funding Formula is the right policy direction, but our serious concern about how it’s accomplished remains,” Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said in a statement. He argues that the distribution formula for high-needs students needs fixing, and some priority programs, like career and technical education, need protecting.
Districts without high-needs students, which won’t get an infusion of extra dollars from the LCFF, continued to argue that they will not be made whole. Cindy Marks, president of the California School Boards Association, called for full restoration of their budget cuts. “CSBA will continue to make our case before the governor and Legislature … without an increase to base funding, local educational agencies will be unable to restore needed programs and services that benefit all students,” she said in a press release.
Stricter rules for extra dollars
In the revised budget, Brown did strengthen the accountability piece of the LCFF, as Ramanathan and other advocates for the disadvantaged had called for. Districts would be obligated to spend the money they get for high-needs students on those children. And county offices of education would have the authority to audit the spending and reject districts’ spending plans for those students when districts fail to meet academic targets two out of three years. Districts that persistently fall short of their goals, as determined by the State Board of Education, could face stiffer sanctions.
The revised budget adds requirements not included in the January budget; it would have imposed an accountability plan only when the LCFF was fully implemented – a serious flaw, said John Affeldt, managing attorney for Public Advocates, a public interest law firm. Instead, districts must lay out how they will spend additional money as they gradually receive it. Affeldt said that Department of Finance officials have said that the detailed budget bill will require that districts’ academic plans outlining spending on targeted students include breakdowns at the school site level – a key change that he and other groups had sought.
Big dollars for Common Core
Brown has called for more district autonomy over spending decisions, and this included, in his January budget plan, giving districts total say over how and whether to spend money on textbooks and teacher training. But Brown is now proposing to earmark $1 billion of the unanticipated money under Proposition 98 for Common Core. Districts will have two years to spend the money, amounting to $167 per student, and will have discretion over how it will be used: materials, training or technology.
Both chairs of the Assembly and Senate education committees, Sen. Carol Liu, D-Pasadena, and Assemblymember Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, had urged Brown to include money specifically for Common Core in the May revision, and he did. Brown called the adoption of the Common Core standards by the State Board of Education “a great intellectual move” but acknowledged it will be a challenging exercise requiring time and training to put into effect.
Michael Kirst, president of the State Board of Education, praised the call for additional funding as “a positive shot in the arm for the national movement” for the Common Core standards, which 45 states have adopted. “When many states and the news media are playing up states having second thoughts, California is moving ahead in a dramatic way, really putting an effort behind this,” he said.
California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel characterized the spending on Common Core as “great and welcome news for California’s students,” adding that “educators must have the support and resources they need in order for the new standards to be implemented effectively.” (Vogel, who represents “winners” and “losers” under finance reform, was more reserved about the LCFF. While endorsing its goals, he said, “We look forward to having many more discussions in the next few weeks as the state budget is finalized.”)
In addition to the $1 billion for Common Core, Brown would use the extra Prop. 98 money next year in two ways that will benefit districts:
- Speed up the payoff of deferrals by an extra $1.6 billion. Deferrals are year-late payments owed to districts that force them to borrow money to make payroll, and have created havoc for some districts. Two years ago, deferrals totaled nearly $10 billion; the administration is projecting they will be paid off by 2014-15, one year ahead of schedule.
- Accelerate phasing in LCFF by adding $240 million on top of the $1.6 billion already budgeted for 2013-14. That’s about one eighth of the $17.4 billion – $2,700 per student – in additional money that Brown is projecting for K-12 over the next seven years.
In defense of the formula
At full implementation under the LCFF, Brown is proposing:
- A base grant for all districts, averaging $6,816 per student – $1,548 more than they’re currently getting. High school districts would get $1,000 more per student and elementary districts would receive more, too, for smaller classes. Brown has said no district would receive less than it’s receiving this year, and all would be repaid the 23 percent cut in base funding, known as the revenue limit, they’ve been hit with since 2007-08. But Chris Learned, associate superintendent of Acalanes Union High School District in Contra Costa County, said that funding for his district would not return to its 2007-08 level until 2017-18 under the formula. The basic grant does not include necessary funding for counselors, building maintenance and professional development that had been funded through categorical programs, he said. “The LCFF is not kind to districts that have gone without for five years,” like Acalanes, with less than 5 percent disadvantaged students.
- A supplement of 35 percent, averaging about $2,400, for every low-income student, English learner and foster youth.
- A bonus grant for those districts where targeted youth are a majority, to counteract the compounded problems of concentrations of poverty. The grant would be only about $50 per student in districts with 51 percent high-needs students, growing to about $1,200 in districts with 100 percent high-needs students.
Senate Democrats have focused criticism on the concentration grant, which would be distributed based on the number of high-needs students per district, not per school. Districts like Newport-Mesa Unified, with high-poverty schools located within an average- or high-wealth districts, would not be eligible for these extra dollars. Stating that the “concentration grants treat thousands of disadvantaged students unequally,” Steinberg’s press release included an Excel spreadsheet showing “405 California schools and tens of thousands of students who would not qualify for the administration’s LCFF formula concentration grants because they’re within school districts whose overall level of disadvantaged students is fewer than 50 percent.”
But Brown, equipped with a prop at the press conference, made his clearest and simplest explanation of the formula. Pointing to a big dollar bill, he said that 80 cents of the LCFF would go to the base funding for all students; all high-needs students would get an additional 16 cents, and only 4 cents out of every dollar would go to the concentration grant. He defended the concentration grant as critical to schools that need an extra boost, while stating its impact on the overall LCFF has been misunderstood.
“Spending more on our most challenged districts is key for our future economic well-being,” Brown said. He added, When people from Beverly Hills, Palo Alto or Piedmont “start telling me they’re going to move to Compton or Watts to get the extra money, then I’ll know there’s a problem.”
During a teleconference on the education plan, Nicolas Schweizer, the Department of Finance’s expert on school finance, elaborated. “People are confusing the concentration grant, assuming districts get a lot more money” once the number of targeted students hits 50 percent. Because it is phased in, the difference in extra money between a district with 48 percent needy students and one with 52 percent is minimal, he said.
With Senate Democrats endorsing the goals of finance reform and Brown rallying advocates and urban superintendents behind it, passage of the LCFF appears more likely than a month ago. That’s not to say there won’t be changes. Assemblymember Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, said the Assembly Budget Committee’s subcommittee on school finance, which she chairs, will hold a series of hearings next week on ways to add more money to the base funding; that, she said, would be the number one priority. Whatever results will incorporate principles similar to the governor’s plan, but may adopt a different timeline or approach, she said. “We need to address holding districts harmless in a real way.”