Legislative leaders assert role in shaping school finance plan

Brown wants to keep details of his school finance plan in the state budget.

Brown wants to keep details of his school finance plan in the state budget, not create a policy bill.

Gov. Jerry Brown hasn’t yet presented the substance of his plan to reform K-12 school finance, but already he’s in a disagreement with the Legislature over its form.

Brown’s position that his Local Control Funding Formula will be included as part of the state budget is meeting resistance from legislative leaders, who see this as an end-run around a full public process that’s required for significant policy changes. They’re insisting that Brown submit a bill that would go through policy-making committees, likely the Assembly and Senate Education Committees.

Rick Simpson, deputy chief of staff and education adviser to Assembly Speaker John Pérez, wrote in an email to EdSource Today  that the Assembly’s position is simple: “No bill? No law. Period.”

Mark Hedlund, communications director for Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, wrote in an email, the “process we use to consider legislation is the Legislature’s prerogative. Regardless of how and where this issue is considered, the bill will have to pass the muster of our appropriate policy committee.”

There’s more at stake than parliamentary formalism. Brown is proposing to give districts a basic per-student allotment with supplementary amounts based on the number of low-income students and English learners they serve. If inserted as details in a late-session budget “trailer bill,” Brown’s plan would be less vulnerable to changes and public scrutiny. As a policy bill, it would go through public hearings and be subject to amendments. Its key pieces could be picked apart. The base rate of student funding could be raised or lowered; the amount of special aid for low-income students and English learners could be changed. Defenders of restricted or categorical programs that Brown wants to end could rise to protect them.

The chairs of the Assembly and Senate Education Committees, Democrats Joan Buchanan and Carol Liu respectively, confirmed this week that they too want the proposed funding formula to go through their committees. Buchanan is questioning the relative dollar weight that Brown has proposed for concentration of high-needs students – a key piece of his plan. Liu indicated that vetting the plan and considering variations of it might take more than one legislative session to complete. Neither Buchanan nor Liu will give Brown’s plan an easy or quick pass through their committees.

Last year, Brown also proposed his funding formula as part of his budget. And when the Senate Education Committee proposed a hearing on it anyway, Brown requested that it be canceled. Because it was an election year, with a tax measure on the ballot, legislators were wary of making changes affecting school funding. The bill never progressed  far enough to be included in a budget trailer bill.

Brown’s revised version, which he announced last week, met a friendlier reception in the Capitol, but details, including breakdowns of money school districts would receive over time as a result of his proposed funding formula, won’t be available for several weeks.

Elaborating on the rationale for having Brown’s proposed funding formula go through the normal legislative process, Simpson said, “We need to have a forum to look at circumstances (in individual districts) that we haven’t conceived of. We have to make sure that it [Brown’s proposal] is fairer than what we have now … and will lead to better outcomes for kids.”

Filed under: Local Control Funding Formula

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6 Responses to “Legislative leaders assert role in shaping school finance plan”

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  1. Eric Premack on Jan 18, 2013 at 5:28 pm01/18/2013 5:28 pm

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    While budget trailer bills aren’t required to go through the education policy committees, the decision of whether to hear trailer bills in policy committee is up to legislative leadership, not the Governor. The legislative rules of each house generally give the rules committees the power to refer bills to committees. As such, if the rules committees want to double-refer the bills to both the budget and education policy committees, they’re free to do so.

    Simply referring the bills to the policy committees, however, is no guarantee of a full or thorough public vetting. I’ve seen plenty of sausage ground in both policy and budget committees–and far more privately, behind the closed doors of BOTH policy and budget committees.

    Thus, what at first blush looks like a procedural dust-up over “parliamentary formalism,” is really just so much initial chest-puffing.

  2. navigio on Jan 18, 2013 at 2:31 pm01/18/2013 2:31 pm

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    Sorry, but this feels like a power play to me. Isn’t our current system a function of running everything through our education committees already? Why should we assume that would be beneficial while criticizing the very system that process created?

    I also have a hard time believing there will ever be any justification underlying the proposed weighting amounts. If I remember in the last go-round, the original weight was 37% then after pushback was apparently arbitrarily dropped to 20% (or something like that). I cant imagine the same person making those two proposals and them being so far apart while still having a common justification for both of them.

    I do agree it would be great to have that discussion, but I disagree that it will (or maybe even can) happen.

  3. Anne White on Jan 18, 2013 at 12:48 pm01/18/2013 12:48 pm

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    I would support those who want a full, statewide, in depth discussion of the Local Control Funding scheme that the governor has proposed. In fleshing out the details of such a far reaching idea there should be a substantial, parallel effort to look for problems. What behavior of districts and parents might change after LCF was put in place? Will white parents send their children to schools with high Latino populations to take advantage of the additional funding there? Will districts take advantage of the cover this proposal seems to offer to provide those additional resources to certain schools?

    Proposition 13 provides an excellent example of a well-intentioned effort gone awry. Yes, Prop 13 brought us a 2/3 vote to approve a state budget and tax relief for seniors on fixed incomes who faced increasing property taxes. However, Prop 13 also brought nearly total Legislative control of California K-12 education. Prop 98 followed to fix the most obvious problems, but districts still deal every day with the “what-ifs” that were not part of the pre-Prop 13 discussion.

    California K-12 education is funded neither fairly nor equitably. It is like a Christmas tree with fixes added like ornaments to make it look better in the view of those with the decorations. We welcome thoughts from those who step back and look at the tree from afar. The Stanford studies of several years ago did that. Any substantial change to the status quo, such as LCF, should be thoughtfully and carefully scrutinized for the unintended consequences which will surely follow.

  4. Chris Bertelli on Jan 18, 2013 at 12:05 pm01/18/2013 12:05 pm

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    Education advocacy organizations should welcome this insistance by the Legislature. This gives them a lot more opportunities to highlight some of the gross inequities of the current system and mobilize their folks.

  5. Art on Jan 18, 2013 at 10:58 am01/18/2013 10:58 am

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    A bigger issue will be the adequacy of the basic per student allotment. If suburban districts received an adequate amount of base funding then their objections to the funding formula would be more muted. Further, we need to see the logic behind the proposed weighting amounts and determine if that logic makes sense. Finally, we need to consider the accountability piece carefully. I am all for holding local boards responsible for outcomes but does that feedback mechanism work quickly enough and well enough throughout the state to make sure our kids get the education they need? These questions can only be asked and answered fully by going through the Legislative committees and not by forcing the LCFF on to Districts as part of a budget trailer bill. But I very much appreciate the Governor’s desire to revamp school finance.

  6. Chris on Jan 18, 2013 at 9:53 am01/18/2013 9:53 am

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    This is the responsible process for the Legislators to insist. Most would agree with the Gov. that the formula for funding public schools needs to be simplified, but, in the current proposal, there are too many school districts and programs that will be hurt. The equity that he may be trying to achieve by giving more for certain groups of students will only end up creating more inequities for other groups and cutting more services and valuable programs for all.

    By going through policy review committees, information can be digested and thought out before these changes are enacted. Good for these legislators on insisting!

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