Democratic senators offer alternative to Brown's funding formula
April 23, 2013 | By John Fensterwald | 7 Comments
Democratic leaders of the state Senate want to delay Gov. Brown’s sweeping plan for changing how schools are funded by a year and will recommend significant changes to it in a bill that they will reveal on Thursday.
In a news release Tuesday, Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg and chairs of the Senate Budget and Education Committees stated they agree with the “fundamental goals and concepts” behind Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula.
But the forthcoming Senate Bill 69 will include measures to make districts more accountable for the extra spending on low-income students and English learners that the proposal will provide. It will also eliminate a key feature of the formula: bonus dollars awarded to districts in which high-needs students constitute a majority, on the grounds that high concentrations of poverty present additional challenges.
Under Brown’s formula, all students would receive a base grant that restores most of the money that districts have lost since 2007-08. In addition, districts would receive an additional 35 percent – about $2,375 – for every English learner or low-income child. The concentration grant would be phased in on top of that. For districts with only high-needs students, it would provide an extra 18 percent: $1,120 per child – a significant boost for urban districts like Fresno, Santa Ana and Long Beach.
SB 69 would redirect the money for the concentration grant – about $2.5 billion, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office – to increase the base funding and the supplemental 35 percent grant, although specifics weren’t disclosed. Senators said they want to insure that all districts have spending restored to pre-recession levels.
That approach responds to critics in suburban districts with few high-needs students who say the base amount would be too low (see accompanying piece) and the concentration grant would apply to too many districts.
However, Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, an Oakland-based advocacy group that supports Brown’s plan, said that research on the struggles of children in high-poverty schools justifies a concentration grant. “The loss of a concentration factor would be a concern,” Lempert said. “There would have to be a strong rationale for that to go away.”
At the same time, Lempert said, he is encouraged that Senate Democrats are endorsing Brown’s overall plan. “It shows how far we have come; last year, it (Brown’s proposal) was not taken seriously.”
While “appreciating that the Senate is now engaged,” Lempert said he wants negotiations to continue and the plan to be adopted without a year’s delay.
Brown would give local districts more control over how state money would be spent; he would eliminate most state-directed programs called categoricals. However, districts would have to direct supplemental money to high-needs students and write a plan, subject to public hearings and a review by the county office of education, detailing how outcomes for those students would be improved.
SB 69 would add teeth to the accountability measures. It would give the state the authority “to intervene and support” districts failing to achieve state goals; districts could have spending restrictions reimposed if there’s no academic progress for subgroups of students, according to the news release.
Along with Steinberg, co-authors of SB 69 will be Carol Liu, chair of the Senate Education Committee; Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, chair of the Senate Budget Committee; Marty Block, D-San Diego, chair of Senate Budget Subcommittee on Education; Democratic Caucus chairman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo; Latino Legislative Caucus chairman Ricardo Lara, D-Long Beach; Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley; Bill Monning, D-San Luis Obispo; and Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles.