Thursday, January 03, 2013


smf: Unfortunately common sense outcomes are not reached in political processes – as evidenced by anything  recently from Beaudry,  Sacramento or Washington DC

Mercury News Editorial |

01/03/2013 02:00:17 PM PST  ::  Gov. Jerry Brown does not shy away from the big challenges. But he's going to need all the help he can get to accomplish school funding reform in California, where wealthy districts and even some impoverished communities have a vested interest in the status quo -- however irrational -- because it happens to benefit them.

In arguing for passage of Brown's Proposition 30 last fall, we saw the tax as a stopgap that was no substitute for school finance reform, which is needed to simplify funding formulas and distribute tax dollars more fairly. We were encouraged in November when, in an appearance at a Silicon Valley Leadership Group event, Brown promised to revive the common-sense ideas he had floated earlier in the year and make a serious bid for reform in 2013.

Now he says it will be part of his budget proposal next week. Watch out for the crossfire.

The binders full of legalese that make up California's education code could probably fill that warehouse from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Requirements passed by the Legislature have money attached to them, and some districts have whole bureaucracies documenting compliance to secure the money and deal with state audits.

Said Brown in November: "I proposed getting rid of most of these categorical programs. There are between 50 and 60 different 'thou shalts,' and if you do, you get money. And they have different rules, and they have different audits, and it's a lot of overhead. I'd like to sweep all that out and distribute money on some rational basis."

Amen to that.

Some districts need more resources than others -- schools in low-income areas with high proportions of English learners, for instance, in contrast with, say, Palo Alto. Brown thinks a weighted formula can meet those needs without the enormous overhead that's now required, and that spending decisions can be better made at the local level.

But some local school boards are more responsible or, let's face it, smarter than others. Some may want to abandon programs like adult education, as one example, when they're no longer required. People will scream, and lawmakers will react with new mandates. So it's important to do this thoughtfully. A few mandates may need to stay in place.

Brown has been talking with various interests to try to meet their concerns, another indication he's serious about this. And thanks in part to Proposition 30, the state will not be as short of money for education this year. Any formula shift has to be phased in, and it's easier if everyone's getting more, not less.

If California set out to write an education code from scratch, it would look nothing like the layered horror we have now. Simpler has to be better, and funding formulas are the place to start.

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