Wednesday, April 24, 2013


By John Fensterwald, EdSource Today |

April 23rd, 2013   ::  Democratic leaders of the state Senate want to delay Gov. Brown’s sweeping plan for changing how schools are funded by a year and will recommend significant changes to it in a bill that they will reveal on Thursday.

In a news release Tuesday, Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg and chairs of the Senate Budget and Education Committees stated they agree with the “fundamental goals and concepts” behind Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula.


CSBA’s price of support: $5 billion more

The California School Boards Association has indicated it would back Gov. Jerry Brown’s new funding formula for schools, but only if the governor delivers at least an additional $5 billion to raise the level of spending for all students. Failing that, CSBA, which represents elected trustees at some 1,000 California school districts, will lobby legislators to delay providing all of the extra money for poor students and English learners that Brown has proposed in his Local Control Funding Formula.

While we support the general concept of recognizing the additional needs of low income students and ELs (English learners), those investments can’t come at the expense of restoring the Base funding for the cuts that school districts have experienced the last five years,” the CSBA wrote in a 21-page position paper, done by consultant Rob Manwaring, that it has forwarded to Brown and to legislators.

The gap between the national and state per pupil spending has grown. Since 2009-20, it has widened further to about $4,000, according to CSBA.

<<The gap between the national and state per pupil spending has grown. Since 2009-20, it has widened further to about $4,000, according to CSBA (click to enlarge).

California districts have seen their base level funding, known as the revenue limit, cut by 22.7 percent. Under the LCFF,  the state would fully restore the district average revenue limit in 2007-08: $6,817. On top of that, for every poor child or English learner, a district would receive an additional $2,375, plus a concentration bonus, starting when disadvantaged students comprise a majority of students in a district. Brown has promised that no district will receive less money under the formula than it got last year.

CSBA, which represents both poor and wealthy districts, doesn’t disagree with Brown’s contention that disadvantaged students need more money; it accepts Brown’s level of extra funding, 35 percent more per high-needs student and the same amount in the concentration grant.

But it contends that, despite the administration’s claim, many districts won’t get back to 2007-08, the high point in district revenue before the recession, for several reasons. Six years ago, about half the districts got more than the average revenue limit; those with substantial numbers of high-needs students will make up in supplemental dollars what they would lose in revenue limit dollars under the LCFF, but those districts with few of those favored students may not get back what they would lose. Furthermore, back in 2007-08, districts saw money for earmarked programs, called categoricals, cut 20 percent. These include basic programs, like maintaining buildings, training teachers and purchasing textbooks. Here, too, districts with few targeted students would not recover that money or the cost-of-living adjustments that would have accrued to it.

CSBA estimates that it would require an additional $5 billion to make all districts whole, a figure that the Department of Finance believes is too high, Nick Schweizer of the Department said on Tuesday. CSBA Assistant Executive Director Dennis Meyers said that one option would be to go to voters in 2014 or 2016 to ask for more funding. Another would be to fund the base amount at a faster rate than the supplemental money for high-needs students.

All of the funding problems would disappear if California raised its per-student funding level to the national average, which is what CSBA ultimately favors. That would be a heavy lift, since, by one measure, accounting for regional cost differences, California’s funding is 49th in the nation, and lagging the national average by $4,017, according to CSBA’s data. CSBA said that raising spending to the national average, while keeping Brown’s formula intact, would raise the base level funding about $1,000 per student, assuming California raised the money in one fell swoop next year. But the national average is a moving target, and other states will likely raise education spending, too, over the seven years in which Brown plans to phase in the LCFF. Thus, CSBA estimates that California would need to come up with billions more to match other states’ increases.

But the forthcoming Senate Bill 69 will include measures to make districts more accountable for the extra spending on low-income students and English learners that the proposal will provide. It will also eliminate a key feature of the formula: bonus dollars awarded to districts in which high-needs students constitute a majority, on the grounds that high concentrations of poverty present additional challenges.

Under Brown’s formula, all students would receive a base grant that restores most of the money that districts have lost since 2007-08. In addition, districts would receive an additional 35 percent – about $2,375  – for every English learner or low-income child. The concentration grant would be phased in on top of that. For districts with only high-needs students, it would provide an extra 18 percent: $1,120 per child – a significant boost for urban districts like Fresno, Santa Ana and Long Beach.

SB 69 would redirect the money for the concentration grant – about $2.5 billion, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office – to increase the base funding and the supplemental 35 percent grant, although specifics weren’t disclosed. Senators said they want to insure that all districts have spending restored to pre-recession levels.

That approach responds to critics in suburban districts with few high-needs students who say the base amount would be too low (see accompanying piece) and the concentration grant would apply to too many districts.

However, Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, an Oakland-based advocacy group that supports Brown’s plan, said that research on the struggles of children in high-poverty schools justifies a concentration grant. “The loss of a concentration factor would be a concern,” Lempert said. “There would have to be a strong rationale for that to go away.”

At the same time, Lempert said, he is encouraged that Senate Democrats are endorsing Brown’s overall plan. “It shows how far we have come; last year, it (Brown’s proposal) was not taken seriously.”

While “appreciating that the Senate is now engaged,” Lempert said he wants negotiations to continue and the plan to be adopted without a year’s delay.

Brown would give local districts more control over how state money would be spent; he would eliminate most state-directed programs called categoricals. However, districts would have to direct supplemental money to high-needs students and write a plan, subject to public hearings and a review by the county office of education, detailing how outcomes for those students would be improved.

SB 69 would add teeth to the accountability measures. It would give the state the authority “to intervene and support” districts failing to achieve state goals; districts could have spending restrictions reimposed if there’s no academic progress for subgroups of students, according to the news release.

Along with Steinberg, co-authors of SB 69 will be Carol Liu, chair of the Senate Education Committee; Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, chair of the Senate Budget Committee; Marty Block, D-San Diego, chair of Senate Budget Subcommittee on Education; Democratic Caucus chairman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo; Latino Legislative Caucus chairman Ricardo Lara, D-Long Beach; Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley; Bill Monning, D-San Luis Obispo; and Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles.

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