Brown budget sends extra $2.9 billion to education

by Juliet Williams, San Jose Mercury News

Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday proposed a revised budget that would send an extra $2.9 billion to California schools this year, including $1 billion in one-time funding to help districts implement more rigorous academic standards.

The budget maintains his proposal to shift additional money to schools with higher numbers of English-learners and students from low-income households, a plan that has generated criticism even from lawmakers in his own party.

A surge in personal income taxes generated partly from Proposition 30, the ballot initiative voters approved at Brown’s urging last November, means the state’s funding guarantee for schools will climb for the current school year.

"We’ve got more money because the people voted for it, and most of that money is going to the schools that need it very much," the Democratic governor said during a Capitol news conference.

The amount of money owed to schools from state and local governments is projected to fall by $941 million during the 2013-14 fiscal year before it rebounds in future years.

Despite criticism from Democrats in the state Legislature, Brown’s revised budget maintains his proposal to overhaul education financing by providing more money for low-income schools and giving districts more control over spending money from the state. His proposal boosts the amount available for the local-control funding formula to $1.9 billion in an effort to appease critics from wealthier districts that stand to gain less under his plan.

The budget also includes $1 billion, or about $170 per student, to implement the "common core" standards that California and 43 other states have adopted. They include more rigorous instruction in English and mathematics, literacy standards for history and social studies and higher-order thinking.

Schools are required to implement the changes, which Brown called a "challenging, intellectual exercise," but have struggled to do so after years of budget cuts. The state funding will pay for professional development and new technology and instructional materials.

Brown’s school funding formula would channel additional money to schools with higher proportions of English learners, low-income families and foster children. He has framed it as part of the state’s obligation to help struggling students, saying it is moral and fair.

"We’re recognizing the difficulties that families have who don’t speak English at home or who are very low-income," Brown said. "They face challenges that more affluent families do not."

The governor has hit resistance from lawmakers who represent more affluent areas that would not gain as much under his plan.

The administration stressed that the overwhelming share of school funding’80 percent’would be distributed to all school districts based solely on the number of students, with 16 percent based on the number of English learners, low-income students and foster children in a district. The remaining 4 percent would be part of a grant for districts in which more than half of students fall into those categories.