By Tom Chorneau, SI&A Cabinet Report | http://bit.ly/TX44hx
Thursday, September 13, 2012 :: Another statewide education association has issued concerns about districts signing up for the state’s new mandate block grant program – a move that requires giving up the right to state reimbursements that can be potentially worth twice as much.
In a policy brief issued Wednesday, the California School Boards Association warned schools that the money set aside by the Legislature for the block grant program could be cut if both tax measures on the November ballot are rejected by voters.
The new block grant, created during the summer’s budget negotiations as a cost-saving vehicle for the state, offers districts about $28 per average daily attendance in exchange for giving up the right to file claims to be reimbursed for mandated activities that may have cost the districts twice as much to perform.
CSBA’s warning about the Legislature cutting the $28 per ADA after the November election follows a similar red flag raised earlier this week by the lead adviser to the Small School District Association, David Walrath.
Both CSBA and Walrath also cautioned that funding for the block grant could be further reduced next year. And both noted that funding in future years is also subject to rollback by the Legislature based on state budget needs.
“It is important to note that if the block grant is ever reduced, deferred or eliminated, there is no interest obligation that accrues similar to what occurs with the constitutionally-backed debt created in regular claiming,” authors of the CSBA brief reported.
At issue are constitutional requirements imposed on the Legislature that call for payments to schools and local government agencies for activities mandated by new laws. The amount owed schools on past claims is more than $1 billion.
“In recent years, the state has attempted to avoid paying mandate claims in a variety of ways, including deferring payments,” the CSBA noted.
The school boards association said that schools need to carefully run the numbers before deciding whether to accept the block grant or stay with traditional claiming.
Some of the issues revolve around simple math such as the costs of accounting and carrying on reporting claims. Others are almost political, such as the public relations problems that might be raised around giving up full reimbursement.
Another key question is over which mandated activities have been included in the block grant and which the state will still allow schools to file reimbursement claims against.
Two big mandate programs are at the center of the issue – one established around requirements of schools to create intervention plans for some special education students and the other around new requirements that high school students complete a science course.
The CSBA policy brief noted that there is some disagreement between the state controller, the Department of Education and the Department of Finance over the filing options for the Graduation Requirement Mandate and the Behavioral Intervention Plan Mandate.
CSBA notes that both the controller and the CDE have said schools can participate in the block grant and still file separately for the two big mandate programs – but the Department of Finance may not support that process.
“(Districts and county offices of education) may file separately for cost reimbursements for the remaining active mandates, the Graduation Requirement Mandate and the Behavioral Intervention Plan Mandate (BIP) (both currently in litigation), as well as any mandates newly approved this year,” the policy brief reports.
“The California State Controller’s Office believes it will be able to accept and pay those claims,” CSBA said. “The Department of Education agrees. The Department of Finance believes all valid mandates are in the block grant and questions whether or not claims outside the block grant will be funded in the future.”PSE-8913 _ EPR_sept2012final