Credit: Allison Shelley for American Education
Teachers and staff from UCLA Community School meet with UCLA professors to discuss the various research projects happening at the school.

The author of legislation that would raise funding under the Local Control Funding Formula to pay for a 50% wage increase for school staff over seven years has agreed to drop a key provision to mollify critics. It’s too early in the legislative process to determine whether they will be satisfied.

As amended, Assembly Bill 938 would set the goal of increasing the base level of funding for LCFF by 50% by 2030-31. But it would no longer explicitly call for raising school employees’ pay by the same percentage. Instead, it would say the Legislature’s intent is more general: to use the funding increase “to close the pay gap” between educators and the market for other comparably skilled employees.

“The ultimate goal is to address the crisis of a shortage of school employees by closing the wage gap — rather than focus on an arbitrary number of 50%, not only for teachers but for food service workers, who can make more at McDonald’s,” Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, the author of the bill as well as the chair of the Assembly Education Committee, said this week.

Associations representing school districts and administrators also support the idea of setting potentially ambitious multiyear targets for the funding formula, which provides about 70% of the money that districts receive annually from the state. But some have balked at restricting the new money to pay raises. They said this would complicate negotiations with teachers and other unions and undermine the principle of local control.

The California Federation of Teachers sponsored AB 938, and the California Teachers Association, the larger of the two teachers unions, has endorsed it. CFT President Jeff Freitas said he supports the bill as amended and didn’t think deleting the 50% nexus between raises and the funding increase would make a substantial difference because the intent of the bill is clear. 

The bill would not serve as a mandate. Instead, the “aspirational funding levels” would support districts’ efforts to improve recruitment and retention” of school staff, the bill said.

Only future Legislatures can determine how much state funding should go to the LCFF each year, and only school boards can determine increases in compensation, including pay. But its passage would pressure the Legislature to make the funding formula the top TK-12 spending priority every year and add leverage for employee unions in contract negotiations to push for significant wages.

“Coupling targets with intent is troubling to us, and that does not mean we would not like to close wage gap,” said Jeff Vaca, chief government relations officer for the Riverside County Superintendent of Schools. Although districts received a “healthy cost of living adjustment” in this year’s state budget, “what does that look like moving forward, if there is not sufficient revenue to meet the legislative intent? Then we’d be faced with cutting student programs to do that. That is not a conversation anyone wants to have.”

 Vaca was among six advocates representing districts and district coalitions to sign an April 18 letter listing several reservations with the original bill. The letter said they could support AB 938 if the full section on closing the wage gap as the intent were removed.

Intent language remains

Muratsuchi complied to an extent. He agreed to strike the 50% pay increase but left the general intent language intact. He made other changes that the coalition requested. The bill would exempt “basic aid” districts — those with sufficient property taxes to fund schools without state aid; most already pay teachers and staff above the state average. And AB 938 would require the California Department of Education to collect yearly data on health benefits as well as wages from all districts. Until now, reporting wages has been voluntary, and the state has compiled no data on the pay of classified workers, who include many different jobs, including lunch employees, janitors and teacher aides.

“The 50% target for pay increases is what was giving our members heartburn,” said Elizabeth Esquivel, assistant executive director of governmental relations for the California Association of School Business Officials and primary author of the letter. She said it also is vital to view total increases in compensation, not just wages alone because teachers in some districts treat fully funded health benefits as their priority. With these changes, the business officials are ready to fully endorse the bill, she said.

But Vaca and another letter signer, Michelle McKay Underwood, a legislative advocate for the California School Funding Coalition, representing two dozen districts, including Elk Grove and Torrance, which is Muratsuchi’s home district, aren’t ready to endorse the bill.

Underwood said her coalition favors funding targets for LCFF, unencumbered by any intent language and new reporting requirements.

Vaca said it’s undeniable that the bulk of LCFF funding goes to employee compensation. The issue is whether to refer to that in statute.

“It is a problem that teachers and staff are paid as little as they are, but LCFF has always been about student performance,” he said. “The theory behind LCFF is that districts determine their own priorities and collective bargaining. The bill would change the dynamic.”

 The California School Boards Association, the Association of California School Administrators and the California County Superintendents have not yet taken a position on the bill. Neither has the California Department of Finance, representing the governor on budget-related bills.

The law establishing the funding formula in 2013 also set seven-year funding targets, at the insistence of then-Gov. Jerry Brown; they were reached in 2018-19, ahead of schedule, after voters extended a temporary income tax increase on the biggest earners. But, the bill declared, the initial targets failed to provide enough funding to close the school employee pay gap. Since then the Legislature annually increased the funding formula at the rate of the statutory cost of living; with record state revenue, the 2022-23 state budget exceeded COLA by several billion dollars.

However, the revenue picture has darkened, with the prospects of a recession — or worse, if Congress fails to raise the federal debt limit within the next month, potentially plunging the nation into financial chaos. In his May budget revision, presented Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom lowered the projected funding for schools and community colleges by $4 billion below the record $110 billion two years ago. 

All districts receive the same base funding per student under LCFF. The funding varies by grade span, recognizing that it costs more to educate high school students than elementary and middle school students. AB 938 would set new funding targets for grade spans for 2030-31, from $13,749 per student for kindergarten through third grade to $16,653 per student grades nine to 12.

Muratsuchi said he was willing to be flexible on the target date if there were further financial constraints.

This was the third bill that Muratsuchi has proposed to create LCFF funding targets. Although the two earlier bills failed to pass the Legislature, they did draw attention to the need to raise base funding.

The Assembly Education Committee passed AB 938 by a 6-0 vote with the understanding that it would be amended. But due to what Muratsuchi’s staff called a clerical error, only one of two sections that cited the goal of raising wages 50% was deleted. Muratsuchi said that would be fixed either in the Assembly Appropriations Committee or on the floor of the Assembly later this month.

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  1. Todd Maddison 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    “It is a problem that teachers and staff are paid as little as they are, but LCFF has always been about student performance,” says Jeff Vaca of Riverside County. Apparently Mr. Vaca has not been paying attention to some of the facts involved. Median total compensation of a CA teacher in 2021 was $124,915. Is that “little”? In the eye of the beholder, I suppose, but given median total pay is about … Read More

    “It is a problem that teachers and staff are paid as little as they are, but LCFF has always been about student performance,” says Jeff Vaca of Riverside County.

    Apparently Mr. Vaca has not been paying attention to some of the facts involved. Median total compensation of a CA teacher in 2021 was $124,915. Is that “little”? In the eye of the beholder, I suppose, but given median total pay is about $8,000 higher than comparably educated private workers, it’s doubtful those workers would consider that “little”.

    As for LCFF being about student performance, if that’s so then it’s been one of the more notable failures in education, ever. Given LCFF funding per student has increased at a rate almost 3 times inflation but student performance by every objective measure has been either flat or declining.

    When you pay more and get the same or less, that’s usually a sign that you’re not getting what you’re paying for.