Gov. Brown proposes ambitious education agenda in his final state budget

January 9, 2018

Even while again predicting an economic recession just around the corner, Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing to leave office with a burst of education spending.

Taking advantage of a voter-mandated budget formula that determines annual revenue for K-12 schools and community colleges, the governor in his 2018-19 budget is addressing what Michael Kirst, the president of the State Board of Education, calls “pent-up policy needs.”

Brown proposes sizable spending to address the shortage of special education teachers, connect career pathways programs with community colleges and give more resources to the state’s new school accountability system. (See budget summary, pages 21 to 39)

Spending proposals include:

The amount is a huge infusion of money, but Kirst, who, with Darling-Hammond had led the creation of 2015 Statewide Task Force on Special Education, observed that it was “imperative” that the funding be made now. “There is no time for incremental programs,” he said, since it was unclear whether the next governor would make the teacher shortage a priority.

On top of this, Brown is proposing to give districts $1.8 billion in discretionary one-time funding available from revenue adjustments.

Total funding for K-12 schools and community colleges is determined by Proposition 98, a 30-year-old formula that voters passed to guarantee a minimum level of education funding. Brown’s Department of Finance projects Prop. 98 will be funded $78.3 billion in 2018-19, an increase of $4.6 billion over what the Legislature appropriated for the current year. Community colleges receive about 11 percent of the total, with K-12 schools getting most of the remainder.

Local Control Funding Formula

The additional $3 billion for the funding formula in 2018-19 will consume most of the projected budget increase of $4 billion for K-12 schools.

Brown’s funding law shifted authority over spending decisions from Sacramento to school districts, and funneled substantial money to districts to support high-needs students: English learners and low-income, foster and homeless students. The governor on Wednesday also proposed for the first time to base community college funding on the same concept.

At his press conference to discuss the budget, Brown made a strong defense of the formula and the principle of local control. Asked why he should pour more money into education when test scores are persistently low, Brown said, “This is not going to be solved in Sacramento. Kids learn at home and in the classroom. People who really want to help in a school that is not performing, should go to the principal and find out what they need.”

“Local empowerment,” he added. “That’s what it’s all about. The age of micromanagement from Washington or Sacramento is over as far as I am concerned.”

At Brown’s urging, the Legislature passed the Local Control Funding Formula in 2013. Full funding means that funding levels for all districts have been restored at least to the pre-recession levels of 2008-09. Districts with high concentrations of students targeted for extra money — such as Santa Ana Unified — are funded above that level. Santa Ana will receive about a third more per student than Huntington Beach City School District, a wealthier district in Orange County with few students targeted for additional aid.

Full funding also ends the transition from a system where districts had varying levels of funding based on often quirky formulas to uniform funding. For example, a district where 80 percent of students qualify for extra money will now get about 20 percent more funding than a similarly sized district with only 40 percent high-needs students.

When proposing the formula five years ago, Brown estimated it would take eight years, until 2020-21, for an additional $20 billion to fully fund it. And it would have taken a lot longer had not voters in 2012 approved a temporary sales and income tax increase under Proposition 30, which Brown campaigned heavily for. The bulk of the money, raising $6 billion to $9 billion per year, went to K-12 schools and community colleges. Two years ago, voters extended the income tax piece of Prop. 30 for a dozen years by approving Proposition 55.

Responding to the budget, school leaders tempered their praise for Brown by emphasizing that full LCFF funding is not adequate funding.

“Our school district greatly appreciates Gov. Brown’s support for public education” and his proposal to fully reach the funding formula target early, George Mannon, superintendent of Torrance Unified and a leader of the district-led California School Funding Coalition, said in a statement. “With that said, every school district in California is facing a dilemma: the inadequacy of base funding to cover the fixed costs imposed since the creation of the LCFF and without additional funding.”

What happens after next year, post-full funding, will be up to the next governor and Legislature. They could fund only inflation increases, making room for other priorities, or they could keep pumping more money into the formula. Brown has taken no position on the future of the formula.

Both the school funding coalition and the California School Boards Association are calling for legislation to set a new target that “will ultimately bring school funding to the level of the top 10 states.”

Mike Walsh, president of the California School Boards Association, said, “We expect to work with this governor and his successor — or, if necessary, go to the voters — in order to secure the full and fair funding needed to prepare all students for success in college, career and civic life.”

Amending the funding law

Separate from funding, Brown indicated he is willing to reword the Local Control Funding Formula to make it clearer whether districts are effectively using supplemental money that’s intended for high-needs students. The lack of clarity has been a consistent complaint of parent and student advocacy groups. Until now the governor has resisted any amendments to  the law.

The K-12 budget  summary (page 24)  says that “to improve fiscal transparency,” districts will be required to show in their annual budget and planning document, the Local Control and Accountability Plan, how supplemental expenditures align with improvement strategies for students generating the money. Brown is also proposing a single website listing the supplemental dollars each district receives under the funding formula.

The changes will not go as far as Assembly Bill 1321, authored by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, and supported Children Now and other student advocacy groups. It would require a stricter accounting of funding formula spending down to the school level. But the proposed changes indicate that Brown acknowledges a transparency problem.

Wording of  the amendment would be in budget language that Brown will release in May.

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