Carolina Romo learns how to draw blood at a medical assistant's class at Metropolitan Adult School in San Jose. Photo by Neil Hanshaw

Carolina Romo learns how to draw blood at a medical assistant’s class at Silicon Valley Career Technical Education Center in San Jose. Photo by Neil Hanshaw

A new report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office supports Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal to move two more categorical programs that support career technical education under the Local Control Funding Formula, giving districts the flexibility to use the funds for any educational purpose. 

But the report also calls upon the Legislature to “take steps” to ensure that districts are held accountable for providing quality career-oriented education to high school students.

“It’s an interesting strategy,” said Jim Aschwanden, executive director of the California Agriculture Teachers’ Association and a former State Board of Education member. “They are in the process of destroying career tech while they restructure it in the future.”

Career tech encompasses programs that integrate a career interest, such as health or business, into the rest of the curriculum, as well as specific course sequences in careers such as carpentry or interior design, and single courses such as automotive shop.

These programs previously received a dedicated, or categorical, funding stream, but the new Local Control Funding Formula approved by Brown relaxes most categorical funding and allows districts to use money any way they wish. In his budget proposal for 2014-15, Brown proposed eliminating categorical funding for two additional career-tech programs, Agricultural Career Technical Education (CTE) Incentive Program and Specialized Secondary Programs.

Until the state develops ways to measure whether districts are providing career technical education, Aschwanden would like to see all career technical programs – including Regional Occupational Centers and Programs that provide the bulk of career training for high school students – returned to their status as categorical programs. That way, districts could not siphon the funds for other purposes. Between 2011-12 and 2012-13, the number of students taking career tech courses dropped by 12 percent and the number of teachers in the program dropped by 20 percent.

The programs “are in a death spiral,” Aschwanden said.

The LAO sees it differently. The report, released on Valentine’s Day, said that the governor’s proposal to move the programs makes sense. The Agricultural CTE Incentive Program currently receives $4.1 million from the state to support 303 grants in 222 school districts. Specialized Secondary Programs receives $4.9 million, which includes $1.5 million to support two specific high schools connected to the California State University, Los Angeles and CSU Dominguez Hills, plus $3.4 million in competitive grants to develop new programs.

“We believe the governor’s proposals are consistent with the Local Control Funding Formula’s core principles of increasing local decision-making authority and reducing historical funding inequities across schools,” the report stated.

But Aschwanden argued that these programs are different from most categorical programs because participation is optional and districts are required to match the funds they receive. By allowing $4.1 million to be flexible funding, the proposal will essentially eliminate $8.2 million for agricultural programs because there will be no incentive for districts to match funds, he said.

The LAO report says that the “lines are increasingly blurred” between career tech and the regular school curriculum as more districts incorporate career pathways into their curriculum that blend academics with real-world experience. The report also said that increased funding for high schools – an additional 11 percent – in the proposed budget can be used for career tech instruction.

In a broader proposal, the LAO recommends that the state move away from specifying how much funding a certain program receives to requiring outcomes from districts that are measurable. The report suggests that schools be judged on career readiness measures, such as how many students:

  • complete a sequence of career technical courses;
  • earn community college credit in a career technical field;
  • obtain an industry certification; and
  • secure an apprenticeship.

Aschwanden applauds this latter recommendation, saying the agricultural program is a perfect example of what the LAO is suggesting. Districts that want continued funding from the agricultural grants program, which is standards-based, already must show that their students are meeting specific academic goals.

“What’s missed by the governor’s office and the LAO is this nexus between funding and performance that is already in place for the agricultural program,” he said.

Also in the report Friday, the LAO again recommended rejecting Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to set by statute the percentage of money reserved for the new Local Control Funding Formula.

The LAO said using statute to fix the specific share of money going to the funding formula would create a new, “unnecessary formula that would further complicate school funding.” It would also represent an unacceptable loss of legislative authority and discretion in determining appropriate funding levels each year for the LCFF, the LAO wrote.

The governor’s plan calls for 76 percent of Proposition 98 funding to go to the LCFF in 2014-15, the LAO wrote. The figure rises to 79 percent in the following school year. In 2013-14, the Legislature determined increases in LCFF funding as part of the budget plan. Prop. 98 is the formula that establishes the minimum amount of money K-12 and community colleges receive each year.

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