Monday, January 07, 2013



The next budget bill

By Kathryn Baron. EdSource Today |

January 3rd, 2013  ::  California may finally get the “Year of Education” that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promised for 2008, which, ironically, is now remembered as the year school funding began its descent to the lower depths.

2013 is full of promise for education, notably due to increased tax revenues from voter approval of Proposition 30 last November. The year will also tax the facility of legislators, Gov. Jerry Brown, educators and education advocates to agree on how to make the most effective use of the new money, as well as how to choose the best direction to take in other policy areas.

Starting today, and continuing for the next week, EdSource Today will present summaries of some of the key education issues that will draw attention this year: The budget, Brown’s latest plan for weighted student funding, improving graduation rates at community colleges, critical decisions on the future of state assessments, another attempt to rewrite requirements for teacher evaluation, strengthening standards for early childhood education teachers, further legislative actions on school discipline, and state and local preparations for Common Core standards

We’re calling the series EdWatch, and hope these articles will provide a clear framework for what to watch for in the coming debates.

Paying down vs. building up

Gov. Jerry Brown is known for keeping his budget proposals close to the vest and, for the past few years, the question was how much would he cut and from where? But the next budget plan, due to be released by January 10th, is generating a lot of buzz, because, with the passage of Proposition 30 and an improving economy,  the governor is expected to have more money to spend on education – $4.2 billion more.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates steady increases in the Proposition 98 guarantee, tapering off as the Proposition 30 sales tax increase sunsets. Source: LAO Report, The 2013-14 Budget.

That would raise the Proposition 98 guarantee to nearly $56 billion in 2013-14, almost an 8 percent increase over this year, according to projections by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. But Brown is also facing difficult choices on how to spend it.

How much of the additional revenue goes to pay back deferrals and other debts and how much restores programs will be a point of tension, said Jonathan Kaplan, senior policy analyst for the California Budget Project.  “There is a pent-up demand for a restoration of cuts, but still quite a backlog of dollars that the state borrowed from districts but has not paid back. It’s a complicated issue for people to understand – like owing credit card debt without food on the table: Which do you pay back?” Kaplan said.

As soon as Proposition 30 passed, $2.2 billion came off the top of the expected revenues for the first installment on paying down the more than $10 billion in Proposition 98 deferrals.  Brown has made it clear he’s committed to eliminating that entire debt by 2015-16.  But in sales pitches for Prop. 30, voters were led to believe that schools would also get additional money to start rebuilding what they’ve lost. In the past five years. Between budget cuts and the suspension of some $900 million in state-mandated cost-of-living increases, schools are owed about 22 percent more than they’re currently receiving from the state.

“California’s voters passed Proposition 30 because they want our public schools to be repaid the $20 billion we lost in education funding cuts over the past four years,” said Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association, which put an enormous effort into campaigning for Prop. 30. “Educators are excited that the state budget can start to make schools whole so that our students can benefit from smaller class sizes again, and from restoring cuts to music and art programs that provide them with the well-rounded education that they all deserve.”

Kaplan sees it as an equity issue. Some districts have shouldered much more of a burden than others and really need a cash infusion. These tend to be districts that rely on the state, rather than local resources, for most of their money.  ”What’s needed is a little of each – paying down debt and restoring money that’s been cut.”

Since categorical flex went into effect, school districts have been redirecting much of the funds away from categorical programs to protect educational programs hit by cuts. Source: Legislative Analyst’s Office.

One big unknown, however, is how the governor would do a little of each at the same time he reintroduces his flagship plan for a weighted student funding formula that directs more money to kids who need it the most. The big question is how it will be implemented, said Michael Hulsizer, head of governmental affairs for the Kern County Office of Education. “I’m sensing that he’s going to start phasing in weighted student funding right away.”

That would have new implications for what happens to categorical funding streams. In 2009, in the throes of the recession, the Legislature took about 40 categorical programs totaling $4.5 billion – from adult education to programs for supplemental instruction and pupil retention – and gave school districts the flexibility to use the money where it was most needed.  As a result, most of the categoricals have nearly disappeared. Although “flex” is due to expire at the end of this academic year, few people in education believe that will happen. What seems likely to occur is that Brown will preserve a few programs and permanently dissolve the others.

The governor’s argument, which he has invoked before, is based on the principle of subsidiarity, a Catholic tenet that calls for local decision making whenever possible,  In this case, that means spending decisions should be left to local school boards.


Going deeper

The 2013-14 Budget:  California’s Fiscal Outlook, Legislative Analyst’s Office, Nov. 14, 2012.

Year-Three Survey:  Update on School District Finance in California, Legislative Analyst’s Office, May 2, 2012.

California Budget Project

California’s New School Funding Flexibility, Public Policy Institute of California, May 2011, Margaret Weston


School finance reform redux

By John Fensterwald, EdSource Today |

January 4th, 2013   ::  Gov. Jerry Brown won’t speak the words “weighted student funding formula” when he presents a new state budget next week, along with his plan to refashion the state’s complex and inequitable school finance system. The concept of funneling more education dollars to high-needs children is very much alive, and Brown will press the Legislature to act on it this year. But rebranding his plan to reform school finance is one of the changes that the governor will make to seek more support than he got last year when he introduced a similar plan.

Department of Finance officials and Brown’s advisers won’t disclose the new name. But they say the governor wants to clear up misperceptions associated with a “weighted student formula” and to stress key features of the plan: transferring accountability and responsibility for spending decisions from Sacramento to local school boards, freeing up dollars through flexibility and simplifying an inscrutably complex funding system.

The issues we’ll face

This is the second installment in our series summarizing which education issues to look out for in 2013. The first, on the state budget, ran Thursday. To come in the series: Efforts to improve graduation rates at community colleges, critical decisions on the future of state assessments, another attempt to rewrite requirements for teacher evaluation, developments in early childhood education, further legislative actions on school discipline, and state and local preparations for Common Core standards.

Brown’s weighted student formula, based on a proposal that State Board of Education President Michael Kirst co-authored in 2008, failed to gain traction last year. Legislators resisted making sweeping changes in an election year with a tax increase on the ballot. Suburban districts complained that too much money would be redistributed at their expense; they will likely remain the toughest sell.

The new plan will be fundamentally similar to the old one, built on two features: giving districts near-total control over billions of dollars by ending state-dictated, restricted “categorical programs,” and directing a portion of the newly liberated dollars to low-income students and English learners. Districts with large concentrations of those students would get extra “weights”: bonus dollars, ranging from hundreds of dollars to potentially several thousand dollars per student.

State Finance Department officials said that some had misunderstood “weighted student formula” to imply that the extra dollars would follow each individual student from school to school, like a voucher. But extra money would be allocated based on numbers of disadvantaged students per district, not per school, and local school boards, not school site administrators, would decide how the money would be spent. This may not satisfy advocacy groups who want more assurance that dollars would be end up in the schools that high-needs children attend and that they will be directly spent on them.

Three times in November, Brown’s advisers met with legislative staff, district officials and advocacy groups to solicit suggestions. Next week Brown will address some of their concerns. Brown will likely raise the base funding per student for all districts, and his advisers say that by the time Prop. 30 expires in six years, districts will be repaid all of the money they have lost from budget cuts in the past five years, including cost-of-living adjustments. The failure to make this commitment explicit last year rattled many districts.

Brown must strike a balance between increasing the base funding for all students without substantially cutting the add-on dollars for targeted children. He’ll create a pot for this by ending additional categorical programs, including subsidies for small elementary classes, totaling several billions dollars. But he’ll also face stiff resistance from defenders of the categorical programs, including rural districts that fear losing funding for bus transportation and districts that have reaped with a windfall of dollars once pegged for desegregation programs ($460 million for Los Angeles Unified alone). In his plan last year, Brown carved out exceptions allowing these districts to keep what they’ve got. The more exceptions he makes, the less room he has to maneuver.

A change of the magnitude that Brown envisions will not come easily. Advocates say they sense a receptivity to reform with  the passage of Prop. 30 and the administration’s openness to revisions (see the column by Ted Lempert in today’s EdSource Today/following). Brown’s challenge will be to convince legislators that all districts, including those that will “lose” dollars under the new formula, will be better off with a more rational, simpler and equitable way of funding schools.

Going deeper


Resolving to transform our school finance system

By Ted Lempert, commentary in EdSource Today |

January 3rd, 2013 ::   Each new year brings the opportunity for a fresh start and renewed purpose. For many of us committed to improving student achievement and promoting excellence in all of California’s schools, our resolve in 2013 is aimed at finally reforming the state’s convoluted education finance system. Governor Jerry Brown wants to get this critical education reform done in 2013, giving us a historic opportunity to realize the equity, transparency and increased local control that the state’s education system sorely needs.

Discussions around this issue began last year when the governor presented a new finance model as part of his budget package. Although the general concept was lauded by many, the specific proposal did not advance and was tabled until after the November election. Much has changed since then: Most notably, the governor’s education policy and finance staff are spending a significant amount of time reworking the proposal to address issues that were raised last year and shared during stakeholder workshops held this fall. By all accounts, the governor’s 2013 proposal will be different and deserves fresh, full and fair consideration by all.

In fact, a number of organizations join Children Now in calling for the further development and adoption of a Weighted Student Formula concept in 2013, including the ACLU, California School Boards Association, Californians for Justice, Campaign for Quality Education, The Education Trust – West, EdVoice, MALDEF, New Schools Venture Fund, Parent Leadership Action Network, Public Advocates, Silicon Valley Leadership Group, United Ways of California, Youth Together, and many others. These groups were joined by leading superintendents, including Jon R. Gundry (Pasadena Unified), Vincent Matthews (San Jose Unified), Jonathan P. Raymond (Sacramento City Unified) and Tony Smith (Oakland Unified).

By all accounts, California’s school finance system—which determines the dollars that districts, schools and classrooms receive and how those dollars may be used—is unnecessarily complex, irrational and inequitable by any measure. In other words, it’s doing a remarkably poor job of matching resources with student needs and must be changed.

We believe it is time for California to move forward and implement education finance reform that fosters local control. For far too long we have evaluated and bemoaned the failings and inequities of the current funding system, and now we have a chance to fundamentally restructure it for the better. We must seize upon the opportunity presented by Gov. Brown’s commitment and begin working earnestly on designing a school finance system that removes the red tape and “command and control” at the state level and allows educators to meet the needs of their local students.

Implementing such a system can achieve equity, transparency and accountability for the children of California. But this will only happen if those of us engaged in the policy process remain at the table and commit to working through the difficult details that will need to be tackled to effectively restructure California’s dysfunctional funding system for schools and correct the inequities and complexities that exist.

We resolve to do all we can to make that happen in 2013, and hope that others will too.


Picture of Ted LempertTed Lempert is the president of Children Now, the leading nonpartisan, multi-issue research, policy development, and advocacy organization dedicated to promoting children’s health and education in California, and the leader of The Children’s Movement of California.

No comments: