Jerry Brown to propose more money, finance overhaul for California schools

by Kevin Yamamura, Sacramento Bee

Gov. Jerry Brown will give more than $2 billion extra to K-12 districts next school year and again ask lawmakers to direct more funding to impoverished students and English learners in his budget plan today, according to education sources familiar with the proposal.

Schools are poised to receive more money based on state revenue growth from Brown’s November tax initiative and an expected economic recovery. The governor sold his tax measure to voters as a way to help education, and he said Tuesday his budget would boost school funding while "living within our means" in other programs.

After striking out with education groups last year on a school finance overhaul, the governor has rechristened his plan the "Local Control Funding Formula" and tinkered with its rules. Brown considers the formula a chief priority this year, with simultaneous goals of providing at-risk children more money and giving local officials greater control by eliminating state earmarks.

Among the new wrinkles, Brown would shift responsibility for adult education to the California Community Colleges system, rather than K-12 districts, said the sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the proposal.

He would provide more money for K-3 students with the idea that additional dollars be spent to reduce class sizes for the youngest pupils, whose classrooms have housed as many as 32 students in some districts. But because Brown wants to eliminate as many earmarks as possible, his budget would not require that districts spend the extra money on shrinking class sizes ‘ something that the California Teachers Association had sought recently in private meetings.

The governor’s new formula would give districts more money based on their share of low-income students, English learners and ‘ in a new twist ‘ foster children, sources said.

His plan would still protect a handful of earmarks by giving districts money specifically for school bus transportation, nutrition and special education. It also retains a block grant that was originally created to satisfy court-ordered desegregation orders.

The "Targeted Instructional Improvement Block Grant" benefits urban districts ‘ and the Los Angeles Unified School District in particular, which receives about half the money each year. Education sources suggested that retaining that money was a sweetener for the state’s powerful Los Angeles delegation.

Brown’s overall approach would give additional money to rural and urban districts but less new money to suburban districts. The governor has significant political hurdles to overcome; suburban districts remain concerned they will lose out, while support from urban districts has been tepid at best.

Eliminating earmarks means fewer protections for programs once deemed a statewide priority by past Sacramento leaders. Adult education advocates previously opposed Brown’s plan since it would leave them without dedicated funds. The latest proposal offers some protection, but also shifts adult education out of the K-12 system, with which it had long been associated.

"Frankly, we would say this is not an appropriate plan of attack," said Dawn Koepke, lobbyist for the California Council for Adult Education. "Adult education is focused on basic skills and basic education, and those types of programs and needs are more closely tied to the K-12 system."

Elsewhere in his budget, Brown said Tuesday he planned to give more money to state universities but maintain a "living within our means" approach throughout the budget. Advocates for health and welfare programs said this week they anticipated few increases in spending for their priorities but also no further cuts.