In the education bills that he vetoed last month, Gov. Jerry Brown made his “don’t” priorities clear to legislators: Don’t tamper with the Local Control Funding Formula; don’t mess with charter schools; don’t create new state mandates; don’t push new spending; and don’t create new state commissions and agencies to examine the limited state data that he does allow.

Brown has been sending those messages consistently, and longtime gubernatorial observers credit him for this, while acknowledging he’s open to exceptions when it comes to doing what he considers best for kids.

That can explain signing Assembly Bill 329, requiring all districts to provide sex education, and Senate Bill 359, requiring all districts to create a uniform policy for placing students into 9th-grade math.

In signing the first bill, he decided that the principle of subsidiarity, the idea that government decisions are best made by local officials, which he has promoted throughout his governorship, didn’t extend to children’s health. Brown could have left it up to local school boards to decide what the district should teach about sex.

In signing the math placement bill, Brown created a mandate, though not an expensive one (under $6 million, according to one legislative estimate), that the state must reimburse districts for the cost of creating a new policy. Brown’s concern for equity – seeing that all children develop to their potential – trumped his commitment to  local control. Sponsors of the bill pointed to research that showed capable minority students were not accelerated to take algebra in 8th grade, putting an obstacle in their path for admission to UC schools.

Brown signed those bills, “even though they appear to be more top-down and non-local control,” because Brown is more thoughtful than most governors about the impact of legislation on kids, said Gerry Shelton, former chief consultant to the California State Assembly Committee on Education and a partner of the Capitol Advisors Group, which advises school districts on policy and financial issues.

His own man

Because of the huge volume of bills that legislators introduce, governors generally wait to see which bills pass before weighing in. With few exceptions, that too has been true of Brown, who eliminated the office of education secretary, and so has fewer staff devoted to education. His chief education advisers, who deal with legislators, are Deputy Legislative Secretary Cathy McBride and Karen Stapf Walters, the executive director of the State Board of Education. Both declined to speak about their roles.

“At the end of the day, the governor makes the decisions (on legislation). He is hands-on, not rubber-stamping. And he has historical knowledge that (previous Gov.) Arnold Schwarzenegger did not have,” said Sherry Skelly Griffith, the new executive director of the California State PTA, who has worked in education policy and government positions for three decades.

Eric Premack, executive director and founder of the Charter Schools Development Center, whom the governor has consulted on charter school-related bills, agreed.

“Brown has a vision of local control and a set of core beliefs, so you can size up where he is likely to land on a bill, but in the end he is his own man. Some governors are deferential to staff; he is not.”

Brown started two charter schools in Oakland when he was mayor of the city, and has fought, through vetoes, attempts to encroach on their independence or dilute protections in the state’s charter school enabling law. This year, he vetoed AB 787, which would have banned for-profit charters, which operate primarily online charter schools. Brown said proponents failed to make a case for the bill, and the bill’s ambiguous wording could have been interpreted to restrict the ability of nonprofit charter schools to continue using for-profit vendors.

Brown inherited a $25 billion deficit when he was elected governor in 2010 and has continued to stress frugality even as a rebounding economy has swelled state revenues. Efforts to pass separate bills for expenditures that Brown excluded from the state budget usually die before they get to his desk. Lawmakers understand the futility of trying.

No new mandates, except…

However, expanding early education remains Democratic legislators’ priority, and they passed Assembly Bill 47, which would have set a target of June 2018 for subsidized preschool to all low-income 4-year-olds not enrolled in transitional kindergarten. But in his veto message, Brown indicated he wouldn’t be pushed by an “arbitrary deadline.” Spending should be decided in the yearly budget process, not outside of it, Brown indicated.

Ted Lempert, president of the advocacy and policy nonprofit Children Now, credited the Legislature for trying. “Early childhood education has not been Brown’s priority, but fortunately it  has been the priority of the Legislature,” he said.

Brown’s opposition to new state mandates and its first cousin, a return to dedicated pots of money called categorical funds, is both philosophical and pragmatic. He is the believer-in-chief of transferring decision-making authority and spending to local districts, through the Local Control Funding Formula that steers extra money to low-income kids, foster children and English learners.

He has reiterated opposition to tinkering with the funding framework until districts have seen how it works. This year, Democratic leaders pushed Brown in budget negotiations to require districts to track every extra dollar they spend for high-needs students, but the governor refused.

To Brown, additional mandates would wall off funding that districts could use as they choose and slow down his timetable of 2020-21 for completing the transition to full funding under the Local Control Funding Formula. The administration’s projection assumes that temporary tax revenue under Proposition 30 would expire at the end of 2018.

“He sees it as imperative to get to the full funding requirements in the law,” Griffith said. “If I had created the reform, I would make it a top priority as well.”

Brown vetoed Assembly Bill 141, which would have required those districts choosing to offer the teacher training and mentoring program known as Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) to provide it without charge. The state requires teachers to take BTSA or a similar training program, and for years the state funded districts’ programs. But some districts started charging teachers after the state stopped reimbursements in 2009. In his veto message, Brown cited the new $100 million mandate.

Rick Pratt, the chief consultant to the Assembly Education Committee and former lobbyist for the California School Boards Association, disagreed with the logic. “I think there is a place for categorical programs like BTSA,” which, he said, produces better teachers who tend to stay longer in the profession. Some districts may not see value in the program, “but the state ought to invest in it.”

Lee’s last stand

In another exception to his commitment to promoting more local decision-making, Brown signed AB 30, making California the first state to ban “Redskins” as a team name or mascot. Four high schools will have to drop the name, which many people consider a racist slur, by 2017.

But Brown vetoed another bill that would have forced school districts to remove names of Confederate heroes from schools and other public buildings. Many African-Americans equate naming buildings after figures such as Robert E. Lee with honoring a cause that fought to preserve slavery.

This case, Brown, wrote in a veto message, is “an issue quintessentially for local decision makers,” a rationale he didn’t apply to the use of  “Redskins.”

Data-averse

Legislators and children’s advocates didn’t attempt to pass bills this year significantly expanding the collection of student data. Brown has made it clear he’ll likely veto them if they do. Brown’s consistent opposition to compiling more education data, which he views as the precursor to more laws and mandates, has evoked some of his best bombast. In an address to the Legislature two years ago, he railed against “reams of accountability data. All the better if it requires quiz-bits of information, regurgitated at regular intervals and stored in vast computers. Performance metrics, of course, are invoked like talismans.”

Four years ago, he rejected federal funding for CALTIDES, a statewide data system that would have compiled information on teacher training, placement and effectiveness that many states have adopted. Since the passage of the Local Control Funding Formula, he has extended his commitment to local control to thwart expanding CALPADS, the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, the primary source of student data.

Advocates of more data cite the inability to better track students, from pre-kindergarten through college, to understand factors contributing to underperformance and academic success. Last year, Brown vetoed bills sponsored by California Attorney General Kamala Harris that would have made it easier for districts to track students who are chronically absent by including additional attendance reports in the statewide data system. Harris didn’t try again this year, although, in her annual report on the subject, she again cited the needs.

“The governor confuses data with big government,” Lempert said. “You need to standardize data to know what is working in education.” Even under local control, he added, districts should standardize how they collect and record data, he added.

Brown is also skeptical about creating new statewide policy commissions. He vetoed a bill to create an interagency task force to examine challenges related to boys and men of color. While the issue is “profoundly important,” Brown wrote in vetoing AB 80, it is “best addressed through concrete actions, not another non-binding commission.”

Sometimes inscrutable

On one important law that he helped shape, Brown was mysteriously silent. It was at Brown’s instigation that the bill suspending the California High School Exit Exam include an amendment that retroactively made all students eligible for a high school diploma if they failed the exam but met all other graduation requirements. Through McBride, Brown conveyed his desire for the change late in the session, but didn’t tell legislators why and hasn’t publicly commented, his press office said.

If the past is prologue, legislators won’t attempt to overturn Brown’s vetoes. The governor vetoed 133 bills in the current session, with about a dozen pertaining to education. The Sacramento Bee calculated that the Legislature passed more than 100 of the vetoed bills by more than a two-thirds majority. That’s the threshold for legislators to override a veto, but there hasn’t been a successful override since the 1970s, when Brown was governor the first time around, according to the Bee.

That’s because legislators generally don’t want to risk alienating or embarrassing a governor by passing a bill he wants killed, said Pratt, the Assembly Education Committee consultant.

Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, has said there won’t be any override efforts this year either.

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  1. Chris Reed 1 year ago1 year ago

    Kind of amazing to see Gov. Brown being given credit for the Local Control Funding Formula, which was meant to help English-learners and foster children students but whose main effect to date has been to provide extra money to urban school districts that are used for teacher raises. In this L.A. Daily News story, the United Teachers Los Angeles specifically depicts LCFF money as a source for teacher raises: http://www.dailynews.com/article/20140806/NEWS/140809652 Last winter, the Legislative Analyst's Office examined 50 … Read More

    Kind of amazing to see Gov. Brown being given credit for the Local Control Funding Formula, which was meant to help English-learners and foster children students but whose main effect to date has been to provide extra money to urban school districts that are used for teacher raises.

    In this L.A. Daily News story, the United Teachers Los Angeles specifically depicts LCFF money as a source for teacher raises:

    http://www.dailynews.com/article/20140806/NEWS/140809652

    Last winter, the Legislative Analyst’s Office examined 50 California school districts, including the 11 largest, and found not a single one had adequate safeguards for using LCFF funds as intended.

    http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2015/edu/LCAP/2014-15-LCAP-012015.pdf

    Not one.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 1 year ago1 year ago

      Chris: The Local Control Funding Formula includes base grants, covering expenses for all students, along with additional supplemental and concentration dollars, which are to be used to increase and improve services and programs for English learners, low-income, foster and homeless children. Base grants, which comprise the bulk of LCFF funding, would be a source for staff compensation. Supplemental and concentration dollars should not generally be used for across-the-board staff raises, although State Supt. Tom Torlakson … Read More

      Chris: The Local Control Funding Formula includes base grants, covering expenses for all students, along with additional supplemental and concentration dollars, which are to be used to increase and improve services and programs for English learners, low-income, foster and homeless children. Base grants, which comprise the bulk of LCFF funding, would be a source for staff compensation. Supplemental and concentration dollars should not generally be used for across-the-board staff raises, although State Supt. Tom Torlakson left the door open — and created ambiguity — in guidance he issued last spring, which I wrote about.

      Districts that use supplemental and concentration dollars for general staff raises and benefits should state so in their LCAPs and state the rationale for it. But you raise a valid point: It is difficult for the public to document in many cases whether some of these extra dollars are funding staff raises. Most of the additional dollars do appear to be going to educational programs and new staff positions, not raises, as far as I can tell.

    • Dawn Urbanek 1 year ago1 year ago

      Capistrano Unified has given across the Board raises every year while students have the highest class sizes in California, had 3 furlough days last year, have not restored a single program that has been cut ($152 million in cuts) and District facilities have not been updated since the 60’s. CUSD facilities need $822 million in repairs and because the State allowed Districts to deplete deferred maintenance funds to pay salaries- we are now being asked … Read More

      Capistrano Unified has given across the Board raises every year while students have the highest class sizes in California, had 3 furlough days last year, have not restored a single program that has been cut ($152 million in cuts) and District facilities have not been updated since the 60’s. CUSD facilities need $822 million in repairs and because the State allowed Districts to deplete deferred maintenance funds to pay salaries- we are now being asked to float a bond to bring facilities up to minimum standards. The only option left to taxpayers and the public is to seek a remedy in Federal Court to ensure that our students get the funding they are entitled to under the Constitution (Federal and State). In the Spirit of the LCAP I have drafted a Federal Complaint that will seek to change the way the State of California raises tax revenues and disperses tax revenues and have invited parents and taxpayers within the CUSD district to participate in the complaint which I hope to file by Christmas. Count 12 shows the grand state plan for K-12 education and the consequences of an education funding formula based solely on wealth, race and ethnicity.

      I would hope that more media outlets would start to bring these issues to the public so that we can do better for our students. It is my sincere hope that Chris Reed will and others can do some investigative reporting before all of our districts are bankrupted- CUSD is on the same path. See: http://laschoolreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/LAUSD_IFRP_FINAL_REPORT-110215.pdf

      peopleforstudentrights.com

      If the State goes into another recession our students will have no hope of getting the Education they deserve.

  2. CarolineSF 1 year ago1 year ago

    I think Gov. Brown's position on charter schools is far more nuanced than you do, John -- far more complex than just "don't mess with charter schools." When he took office, he restructured the state BOE so it was no longer stacked entirely with Schwarzenegger's charter-sector insiders and cheerleaders, and the charter sector screamed bloody murder. I was at an event* promoting charter schools many years ago -- I believe around December 2001 -- at which … Read More

    I think Gov. Brown’s position on charter schools is far more nuanced than you do, John — far more complex than just “don’t mess with charter schools.” When he took office, he restructured the state BOE so it was no longer stacked entirely with Schwarzenegger’s charter-sector insiders and cheerleaders, and the charter sector screamed bloody murder.

    I was at an event* promoting charter schools many years ago — I believe around December 2001 — at which Brown spoke about the two Oakland charter schools he was then planning to launch. His attitude in the speech was openly belligerent and hostile to public schools — the message conveyed was “we’ll show those stupid public schools and lazy teachers how to do it right.”

    As it turned out, neither of his Oakland schools would have survived without his raising vast torrents of additional funding for them — sometimes through ethically questionable methods that have landed on Page 1 — and neither would have survived without being selective. Oakland School for the Arts is openly, straightforwardly selective through its audition process**, while Oakland Military Institute is covertly, unofficially selective (but ask any parent there and they’ll make it clear — the selectivity is considered one of the school’s top attributes). Brown has been deeply involved in those schools, even attending parent meetings and hiring the heads of school personally, I know from contacts at OSA.

    When Brown ran for his second round as governor, he discussed education quite a bit, and his attitude was no longer belligerent and hostile to public schools; he openly said he had learned humility. Clearly he learned what a challenge it is to run a high-poverty urban school. He has since worked hard to change tax law to raise more money for California public schools.

    It seems evident from various vetoes of Brown’s that he assesses legislation on its merits as law, not just based on his personal views on the topic. I really don’t think we know what he thinks of for-profit charter schools, but I really disagree that his view is just a simple “don’t mess with charter schools.”

    *The event was at Delancey Street in San Francisco and was sponsored by CANEC, precursor to CCSA, for the record
    **I’m not criticizing an audition-admission arts school. My own kids attended an openly, honestly audition-admission public arts non-charter high school, Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco Unified. There’s a “reform” advocate in Minnesota who stalks me around the Internet to “gotcha!” me with this frequently — Joe, you don’t need to bother because I disclosed it!

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 1 year ago1 year ago

      Caroline: Gov. Brown has nuanced views on many subjects; he's smart and thoughtful. He also has consistently defended the state's charter law from efforts either to make charters more like district schools and has warded off numerous bills to weaken them. I'll stick with my characterization. I question your characterization of him as having been hostile to district schools. For a governor has has been closely aligned with CTA and spoken eloquently about … Read More

      Caroline: Gov. Brown has nuanced views on many subjects; he’s smart and thoughtful. He also has consistently defended the state’s charter law from efforts either to make charters more like district schools and has warded off numerous bills to weaken them. I’ll stick with my characterization.

      I question your characterization of him as having been hostile to district schools. For a governor has has been closely aligned with CTA and spoken eloquently about teachers and the work they do, I doubt he implied public school teachers were lazy.

      • CarolineSF 1 year ago1 year ago

        His affect in that particular speech came across to me as belligerent -- he probably viewed it as being a cheerleader, and he WAS speaking to a gung-ho pro-charter audience (with a couple of meek little infiltrators such as myself). My strong impression was that his message was that public schools were inferior and charters would show them the way. So my observation is that his attitude appeared to change after he actually immersed … Read More

        His affect in that particular speech came across to me as belligerent — he probably viewed it as being a cheerleader, and he WAS speaking to a gung-ho pro-charter audience (with a couple of meek little infiltrators such as myself). My strong impression was that his message was that public schools were inferior and charters would show them the way. So my observation is that his attitude appeared to change after he actually immersed himself in the running of two schools — even selective schools bestowed with huge amounts of extra money.