Gov. Jerry Brown highlighted his education accomplishments in an upbeat State of the State on Wednesday that marked the final address of his current term and laid out priorities for the coming year and his likely reelection campaign.
In remarks that were remarkably brief, just 17 minutes long, before a joint session of the state Assembly and Senate, Brown dedicated a portion of his speech to his educational priorities and accomplishments. He thanked voters for passing Proposition 30, the 2012 ballot measure that authorized temporary tax increases to fund education, and he praised legislators for approving historic school finance reform by enacting the Local Control Funding Formula, which he called a “major breakthrough in the way funds are allocated to California’s schools.”
In addition to providing additional funds to improve learning for low-income students and English learners, the new funding formula also puts into law the principle of “subsidiarity,” or local decision making, which is one of the governor’s guiding philosophical tenets.
“Instead of prescriptive commands issued from headquarters here in Sacramento, more general goals have been established for each local school to attain, each in its own way,” Brown said. “This puts the responsibility where it has to be: in the classroom and at the local district.”
To underscore the goal of encouraging community participation in education, the governor cited last week’s State Board of Education meeting in Sacramento, where more than 300 people turned out to give their views on implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula.
“Now, that shows interest and real commitment,” Brown said.
Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, lauded the governor for putting his faith in school communities, teachers and administrators. While acknowledging that the union hasn’t always agreed with the governor, Vogel said Brown has been a good partner.
“The encouraging part is you’ve got a governor saying, ‘Look, we can do this, let’s work together and solve the problem,’ which is very different than what we’ve heard from other governors, which is more like, ‘You’ve got a problem, fix it,’” Vogel said.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson attended the State of the State address and was pleased with the governor’s focus on education in the speech and in his budget proposal released two weeks ago.
“It made for a happy start to 2014,” Torlakson said in an interview. He added that the governor has “kept his promise to keep education as a top priority in the budget with the $10 billion for our K-12 schools and some money for higher education.”
Reaction was more muted among advocates of early childhood education, a subject that Brown didn’t even mention in his speech.
“California stands in stark contrast to New York, where yesterday Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined the growing list of national leaders focusing much needed attention on investing in early learning,” said a statement released by Raising California Together, a statewide coalition of several dozen organizations and unions advocating for increased access to child care. “Gov. Brown is correct to say that education is a priority for California, but if we want kids to succeed in grades K-12, we need to set them up for success from (infancy) to five.”
Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, a nonprofit that works to improve the health and well-being of California’s children, agreed.
Lempert said he was “thrilled” that the governor focused so much of his remarks on education, particularly Common Core State Standards and the Local Control Funding Formula, and would have “loved to hear something about early learning and more on education and children’s health.”
But he wasn’t surprised by the omission.
“Unfortunately not, because in the budget proposal he was pretty silent on anything for early learning,” Lempert said. “We’re obviously hoping that the governor changes course on that with the May [budget] revise.”
Brown’s speech gave little indication that he’s willing to make any significant additions to the budget. Instead, he was clear about the need to create a rainy-day fund that protects the state from the natural pattern of economic ups and downs that California is just now recovering from.
“So we can’t go back to ‘business as usual,'” Brown said. Then the former seminarian reached into the Bible to make his point. “Boom and bust is our lot and we must follow the ancient advice, recounted in the Book of Genesis, that Joseph gave to the Pharaoh: ‘Put away your surplus during the years of great plenty so you will be ready for the lean years which are sure to follow.'”