Spending for K-12 schools in the coming year will be $6 billion more than Gov. Jerry Brown proposed just five months ago, raising per-student spending $3,000 – 45 percent – from what it was four years ago, according to the revised state budget that the governor released on Thursday.
State revenues have surged this year, and K-12 schools and community colleges will haul in nearly every penny because of Proposition 98, the constitutional amendment that puts schools first in line for restoring funding when the economy rebounds after a recession.
The new level of Prop. 98 spending for K-12 schools and community colleges will be $68.4 billion in 2015-16. That is $7.5 billion more than the Legislature appropriated last June for the current year. Surging revenues, which are projected to continue into next year, will bring the total increase for schools next year to nearly $14 billion in Prop. 98 spending (see pages 13-22 of state budget summary).
But warning that “the reality is another recession is coming,” Brown is splitting the increase between ongoing spending, one-time expenditures and paying off debts.
Local Control Funding: The Local Control Funding Formula, which provides general spending to schools, will remain his top priority. It will get $6.1 billion more next year, or about $1,000 more per student on average, with districts with higher proportions of English language learners and low-income children receiving more.
Paying off mandates: About $3.5 billion ($2.4 billion more than in the January budget) will pay for unreimbursed mandated expenses. Districts and county offices of education can use this money however they want, although the governor is encouraging them to spend it on implementing the new Common Core and science standards.
“I think there’s an expectation and hope that it will be put into Common Core implementation,” said David Plank, executive director of Policy Analysis for California Education, or PACE, a research center based at Stanford University, “Common Core is hard work and the money, I think, will be greatly received and put to good use.”
But Education Trust-West, an advocacy group for low-income and minority students, criticized Brown for not requiring districts to use the money for Common Core. “Districts will be pressured to use these funds for many other competing priorities,” it said in a statement. “We missed an opportunity to ensure our state standards will truly make a difference for all of our students.”
Special education: The Statewide Special Education Task Force, a group convened in 2013 to propose improvements to special education in California, received recognition in the revised budget – and $60 million for some of the actions it recommended. This includes $50 million in ongoing funding and $10 million in one-time funding to expand interventions for special-needs children under two years old, add 2,500 additional preschool slots prioritized for special-needs children and expand data-driven schoolwide behavioral supports.
End of deferrals: About $1 billion will pay off the final late payments to districts, known as deferrals, which forced districts to borrow money, sometimes at high interest rates, while waiting for state funding.
Advocates for young children and the Legislative Women’s Caucus had called on Brown to provide $600 million more for child care for low-income families by shifting that expense into Prop. 98. The Legislative Analyst’s Office had suggested freeing up money for non-Prop. 98 spending by adjusting property taxes that go toward education funding.
But Michael Cohen, director of the Department of Finance, said he was “not interested in manipulating the Prop. 98 guarantee” and “plopping things into 98” to spend additional money. The department, he said, distinguished programs that qualify for education funding.
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, who chairs the Assembly Budget Committee’s education subcommittee, said that she shares the “strong sentiment” to include more money for child care in Prop. 98, where that funding was included until it was shifted in 2010-11. The issue will be negotiated with the administration, she said.
Praise from education groups
Education groups generally had high praise for the revised budget. Plank called it a “spectacularly good budget for K-12.” Kevin Gordon, president of Capitol Advisors, a lobbying firm representing school districts and county offices of education, said it was “one of the best budgets for K-12 I have ever seen. It has fully discretionary money with no strings attached. That normally doesn’t happen.”
Adonai Mack, legislative advocate for the Association of California School Administrators, said his organization agrees with Brown’s priorities and appreciates that the governor didn’t permit other programs to encroach on Prop. 98 spending. “It’s a very good budget for public education,” he said.
Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, said the budget reflected the right priorities in funding education and creating a new tax credit for low-income workers. But he added, “we have a long way to go before we restore the programs in education and social services we lost to a decade of budget cuts,” and called for making temporary taxes under Proposition 30 permanent.
Double-digit spending increases for schools is not expected to continue past next year. State revenues are expected to flatten with the expiration of temporary increases in the state sales tax and the income tax on the wealthiest 1 percent. And the portion of the revenue going to K-12 schools and community colleges will decline after next year to about the standard 40 percent of the general budget after past obligations to Prop. 98 are fully paid off. Called the maintenance factor, it was as high as $11 billion as a result of cuts made during the recession, but will be under $800 million after next year.
The new Prop. 98 numbers will ease anxiety in Los Angeles Unified, whose board approved a 10 percent pay increase for teachers without knowing how the district would cover the expense. District officials said Thursday that the $300 million to $400 million in additional state money next year – half for ongoing costs and half in one-time funds – would cover the costs of teacher raises. But they said they were unsure if they can avoid teacher layoffs next school year or how they will pay for promised future raises.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that extra revenue in the May budget revision will raise K-12 Prop. 98 funding to $9,978 per student –$656 per student higher than the inflation-adjusted, pre-recession spending level in 2007-08. However, under the new funding formula, some districts with fewer English learners and low-income students are still well below that figure. And all districts will face substantial increases in pension costs for teachers, which will rise an additional $3.7 billion collectively over the next four years.
Reporters Jane Meredith Adams, Susan Frey, Michelle Maitre and Sarah Tully contributed to the coverage of the state budget.