Thursday, January 19, 2012

THE STATE OF THE STATE OF THE SCHOOLS: Highlights of the coverage

edited from the LA Times by smf

“The governor also asked for changes in public schools, saying the state has overemphasized student testing and calling for local officials to have more control over their budgets. He asked state lawmakers to remove requirements that districts spend certain funds on specific programs.”


Gov. Jerry Brown's State of State speech puts focus on big projects
Gov. Jerry Brown's State of State speech puts focus on big projects

January 19, 2012 - By Michael J. Mishak and Anthony York, Los Angeles Times |

smf: I listened to Brown’s State of the State speech live – and heard him deliver it again in LA yesterday afternoon: Here is the full text:

The LA Times had two Editorial responses this AM:


GOV. BROWN’S VISION: In his State of the State address, he offers a controversial yet simple plan, one that mostly gets it right.

LA Times Editorial |

Gov. Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown delivers his State of the State address as Assembly Speaker John Perez looks on. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

January 19, 2012 :: The gist of Gov. Jerry Brown's State of the State address — that California is recovering — is hard to absorb, given the continuing high levels of unemployment, the year-to-year multibillion-dollar shortfalls in the state budget, the shuttering of state parks, the looming cuts to schools and the dismantling of human services programs.

Yet the numbers, while hardly overwhelming, show that California has slowly, tentatively, turned a corner. What now?

Brown lays out a plan that is controversial yet simple: Get the rest of the way over the hump with deeper cuts and with a temporary tax increase; shift more authority for incarceration and education from Sacramento to counties and school districts; fix coming budget problems, most notably public pensions, before they actually become problems; and keep the state on the cutting edge of environmental policy, transportation leadership and statewide opportunity.

The governor got most of it right. The tax increase he is seeking would indeed be temporary and would in fact leave Californians still paying far less in taxes than they did two years ago. And without it, a further dismantling of the state's public education system would be necessary, foolishly robbing from our future. Even if the increases are approved, the spending cuts he's proposing — including drastic slashes in Medi-Cal funding — will end up costing the state more in the long run.

He is correct, but moves only halfway to the goal, on so-called realignment. In transferring responsibility for imprisoning thousands of inmates to counties, the governor is continuing a rollback of the Sacramento-oriented centralizing over which he presided in his first round as governor, in the 1970s. California can cap property taxes, as it did with Proposition 13 in 1978, and still return to local communities much of the decision-making power they lost in the ensuing years when Sacramento back-filled the depleted local coffers. The latest addition to the governor's prison realignment plan is merely strengthening the promise of jail funding to counties. To truly realign, the governor must also return to county residents much of their former power to raise their own revenue and make their own spending decisions.

Likewise, returning a measure of control over education decisions to local school districts is a healthy philosophical move, as far as it goes. But it's not yet clear whether relaxing some testing, as he proposes, truly moves the state in that direction.

The governor also took an appropriate swipe at "declinists": those people who insist that the state's predicament is part of some inexorable fall rather than a fixable result of poor policy and an especially bad, but temporary, economic turn. Brown knows that when the state emerges from its budget winter, it must be ready to face the future — with investments in clean energy, swift transportation and nimble government.

As in his younger days, Brown has little problem with vision. To get Californians to follow, he will need to explain further — and to keep explaining — that he's got the proper destination in mind.


GOV. BROWN’S SCGHOOL REFORM PROPOSAL SHOULD GET A PASSING GRADE: Gov. Jerry Brown's budget aims to give school districts greater flexibility in spending state funds.

la tIMES oP-eD BY By Bruce Fuller |

California Gov. Jerry Brown

California Gov. Jerry Brown talks about his budget during a press conference in Sacramento. (Lezlie Sterling//MCT / January 5, 2012)


January 18, 2012, 4:15 p.m. :: Tucked deep inside Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed 2012-13 budget for California is a little-noticed proposal for the most radical reform of school funding in the state since Proposition 13.

Brown has proposed deregulating some two dozen state programs, including a popular effort to shrink class size in primary classrooms. The deregulation would free up about $7.1 billion in state funds that are currently earmarked for the programs to be used by districts for any educational purpose they see fit, allowing districts far more flexibility to direct funds where they are most needed.

The proposal would also, over five years, create a system in which individual students are funded at different levels, depending on the actual costs of bringing them to proficiency. Districts would be allotted more per student for those with more costly needs, a move likely to shift more dollars to urban systems like the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Michael Kirst, the Brown-appointed president of the state Board of Education, says the governor is aiming "to direct more money to the neediest students and transform a centralized and overregulated finance system."

The budget would still require schools to do more with less, aiming to restore only about $4.9 billion to state school funding, roughly half of what has been cut since 2007. And even that additional funding will be possible only if voters approve a ballot initiative to boost tax revenue by $4.6 billion.

Brown's proposals come at a time when a majority of citizens say they favor modest tax increases for schools, according to polling by the Public Policy Institute of California, but only if existing dollars are spent more effectively with less bureaucracy. The reforms proposed in the budget are a decisive step in that direction.

To shave Sacramento's own bureaucracy, the governor would redirect an additional

$2.6 billion in various funding streams into a block grant incentive program for which districts would be held accountable. This would mean that the state would no longer mandate what districts must spend on such things as textbooks, driver's education, arts and music, shifting that money into the omnibus grants program. The proposal builds on a Republican-led effort in 2009 that collapsed 40 other education programs into a $4.5-billion block grant program.

So what would this mean for a district like L.A. Unified? Currently, about a third of the district's annual funding is tied up in rule-bound programs. Not only does that severely limit the district's ability to direct funds where they're most needed, but, according to the findings of a recent study carried out by UC Berkeley and Stanford, it also requires school principals to spend much of their time completing forms and hosting a stream of compliance officers.

The maze of regulations that binds up school funding today dates to the 19th century, and is now well understood by only a few well-heeled lobbyists. Brown's budget is an attempt at modernization. "We want to keep this as simple, as transparent as possible," said Nick Schweizer, a senior finance advisor to the governor.

The logic behind Brown's proposals is similar to that used to finance healthcare: Public dollars should be allocated according to actual costs. In the case of healthcare, this means that more dollars are directed to patients requiring more expensive treatments. Currently, Sacramento allocates about the same amount of money to educate a bright, upper-middle-class child with highly educated parents living in Pacific Palisades as it does to educate a child struggling to read and living below the poverty line in the inner city. But the costs of bringing those two children to proficiency are very different.

Predictably, the politics are already getting ugly. Rural districts are fighting to retain protected dollars for 4-H clubs. Parents of kids who have been designated "gifted" are fighting for their set-asides. Teacher unions will fight to strictly regulate dollars for smaller classes. And that's nothing compared with the fireworks we'll see when the governor's plan gets to the Legislature.

The proposals, though, are sound. Rather than focus on trying to defeat them, stakeholders should focus on developing a sensible plan for phasing in the new system in a way that doesn't do harm. Growing suburban districts, for example, need to have the ability to raise local taxes more easily to fund schools. Schools that show improvement should be rewarded, and those that don't should be called to account. Otherwise, schools could benefit from attracting, but not serving, weak students — just as doctors are rewarded for treating disease, not for preventing it.

The governor has presented the kind of austere but flexible plan demanded by these lean times, and his strategy could be good for California students. Directing scarce dollars to children who most need support, and untying the hands of local educators to attract stronger teachers and lift achievement, are potent reforms that are long overdue.

Bruce Fuller is a professor of education and public policy at UC Berkeley.

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