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.”