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EdWatch 2013: The next budget bill



California may finally get the “Year of Education” that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promised for 2008, which, ironically, is now remembered as the year school funding began its descent to the lower depths.

2013 is full of promise for education, notably due to increased tax revenues from voter approval of Proposition 30 last November. The year will also tax the facility of legislators, Gov. Jerry Brown, educators and education advocates to agree on how to make the most effective use of the new money, as well as how to choose the best direction to take in other policy areas.

Starting today, and continuing for the next week, EdSource Today will present summaries of some of the key education issues that will draw attention this year: The budget, Brown’s latest plan for weighted student funding, improving graduation rates at community colleges, critical decisions on the future of state assessments, another attempt to rewrite requirements for teacher evaluation, strengthening standards for early childhood education teachers, further legislative actions on school discipline, and state and local preparations for Common Core standards

We’re calling the series EdWatch, and hope these articles will provide a clear framework for what to watch for in the coming debates.

Paying down vs. building up

Gov. Jerry Brown is known for keeping his budget proposals close to the vest and, for the past few years, the question was how much would he cut and from where? But the next budget plan, due to be released by January 10th, is generating a lot of buzz, because, with the passage of Proposition 30 and an improving economy,  the governor is expected to have more money to spend on education – $4.2 billion more.

The Legislative Analyst's Office estimates steady increases in the Proposition 98 guarantee, tapering off as the Proposition 30 sales tax increase sunsets.  Source:  LAO Report, The 2013-14 Budget.  (Click to enlarge).

The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates steady increases in the Proposition 98 guarantee, tapering off as the Proposition 30 sales tax increase sunsets. Source: LAO Report, The 2013-14 Budget. (Click to enlarge).

That would raise the Proposition 98 guarantee to nearly $56 billion in 2013-14, almost an 8 percent increase over this year, according to projections by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. But Brown is also facing difficult choices on how to spend it.

How much of the additional revenue goes to pay back deferrals and other debts and how much restores programs will be a point of tension, said Jonathan Kaplan, senior policy analyst for the California Budget Project.  “There is a pent-up demand for a restoration of cuts, but still quite a backlog of dollars that the state borrowed from districts but has not paid back. It’s a complicated issue for people to understand – like owing credit card debt without food on the table: Which do you pay back?” Kaplan said.

As soon as Proposition 30 passed, $2.2 billion came off the top of the expected revenues for the first installment on paying down the more than $10 billion in Proposition 98 deferrals.  Brown has made it clear he’s committed to eliminating that entire debt by 2015-16.  But in sales pitches for Prop. 30, voters were led to believe that schools would also get additional money to start rebuilding what they’ve lost. In the past five years. Between budget cuts and the suspension of some $900 million in state-mandated cost-of-living increases, schools are owed about 22 percent more than they’re currently receiving from the state.

“California’s voters passed Proposition 30 because they want our public schools to be repaid the $20 billion we lost in education funding cuts over the past four years,” said Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association, which put an enormous effort into campaigning for Prop. 30. “Educators are excited that the state budget can start to make schools whole so that our students can benefit from smaller class sizes again, and from restoring cuts to music and art programs that provide them with the well-rounded education that they all deserve.”

Kaplan sees it as an equity issue. Some districts have shouldered much more of a burden than others and really need a cash infusion. These tend to be districts that rely on the

Since categorical flex went into effect, school districts have been redirecting much of the funds away from categorical programs to protect educational programs hit by cuts.  Source:  Legislative Analyst's Office.  (Click to enlarge).

Since categorical flex went into effect, school districts have been redirecting much of the funds away from categorical programs to protect educational programs hit by cuts. Source: Legislative Analyst’s Office. (Click to enlarge).

state, rather than local resources, for most of their money.  “What’s needed is a little of each – paying down debt and restoring money that’s been cut.”

One big unknown, however, is how the governor would do a little of each at the same time he reintroduces his flagship plan for a weighted student funding formula that directs more money to kids who need it the most. The big question is how it will be implemented, said Michael Hulsizer, head of governmental affairs for the Kern County Office of Education. “I’m sensing that he’s going to start phasing in weighted student funding right away.”

That would have new implications for what happens to categorical funding streams. In 2009, in the throes of the recession, the Legislature took about 40 categorical programs totaling $4.5 billion – from adult education to programs for supplemental instruction and pupil retention – and gave school districts the flexibility to use the money where it was most needed.  As a result, most of the categoricals have nearly disappeared. Although “flex” is due to expire at the end of this academic year, few people in education believe that will happen. What seems likely to occur is that Brown will preserve a few programs and permanently dissolve the others.

The governor’s argument, which he has invoked before, is based on the principle of subsidiarity, a Catholic tenet that calls for local decision making whenever possible,  In this case, that means spending decisions should be left to local school boards.

Tomorrow in EdWatch – weighted student funding.  

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