Leg erases Gov’s ed reforms

Weighted funding out, science mandate in

John Fensterwald co-authored this article.

The Legislature’s budget package is missing many of Gov. Brown’s controversial education initiatives. A joint Senate and Assembly plan outlined yesterday protects transitional kindergarten, the science mandate, and the AVID program, rejects the weighted student funding formula, and offers districts a choice in how they’re paid for state mandates.

“This budget protects and invests in public education this year, and increases Proposition 98 funding by $17 billion over the next four years,” said Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez during a press conference Wednesday morning with Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

The overall budget plan that lawmakers will vote on this Friday would erase California’s $20 billion structural deficit, balance the budget for each of the next three years, and create a $2 billion reserve by fiscal year 2015-16, according to Pérez and Steinberg.

Spending for K-12 education would be $53.6 billion for the 2012-13 fiscal year. That’s about $1 billion more than the governor had anticipated. Because the budget assumes more revenue for education through the passage of Brown’s tax initiative in November, the state is obligated under Proposition 98 to start paying off the “maintenance factor,” the IOUs given to schools during bad times. But if the tax increase fails, the Legislature and governor are in accord on the need for cuts of $5.5 billion for K-12 schools and community colleges. That would translate to a K-12 cut of $450 per student.

About $2.9 billion of that would come from lowering the Prop 98 guarantee due to a drop in state revenues. The rest would be made up through shifting two expenses into Prop 98 that are currently funded outside the guarantee. Those are repayment of general obligation bonds for school construction and the Early Start early education program. (Go here to read more about that in an earlier TOPed article.)

In addition, the legislative package would include trailer bill language allowing K-12 schools to cut 15 additional days from the next two school years.

Weighty issue

The governor’s biggest loss, for now, is the weighted student funding formula. Lawmakers’ refusal to include it in the budget isn’t an outright rejection of the concept of a simpler, fairer finance system that sends more money to districts with high proportions of English learners and indigent students. And Brown is expected to bring up the issue again this summer. But many lawmakers felt that the governor was jamming them to accept sweeping changes without justifying the basis for his formula, while legislators from suburban districts called for restoring all of the money lost to cuts over the past four years before redistributing new money.

Rick Simpson, the deputy chief of staff for Speaker Pérez, said that lawmakers wanted more assurances that the money under a weighted formula would actually reach targeted students. As part of his reform,  Brown proposed giving districts total flexibility in deciding how the dollars would be spent. “If you’re going to deregulate the entire school finance system,” Simpson said, “and if you’re not going to regulate inputs, you ought to have an accountability system to make sure you get those positive outcomes. We have lots of disparate pieces that we refer to as accountability, but it’s not a system.”

High school science intact

Brown had proposed eliminating the mandate for more than two dozen K-12 programs, including (the most expensive) requiring schools to offer a second year of high school science. Dropping a mandate would mean that districts could continue offering a program by finding money in their existing budgets. Brown also proposed reimbursing districts a flat $28 per student for the remaining mandated programs.

Science teachers and the business community protested that the state shouldn’t retreat from its commitment to science education (see commentary on this page), and the Legislature agreed, keeping it and all of the current mandates intact. However, lawmakers didn’t increase the reimbursement rate either, so districts can expect to continue accumulating a big IOU for meeting the science mandate. The state has also gone to court, arguing that the $250 million cost on the books for offering a second year of science is way too high, based on a false assumption that high schools had to add a period to the day to accommodate it, according to Paul Golaszewski, an analyst with the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Applying for a straight $28 per student would be the easiest, quickest way for districts to be reimbursed for mandated costs. However, the Legislature also would continue to allow districts to submit bills detailing the cost of complying with mandates – and hope that the state accepts the claims.

Starting early

The joint budget proposal allowed the early childhood education community to exhale a bit, by denying a number of significant cuts that the governor was seeking. He wanted to cut the reimbursement to preschool providers by 10 percent, raise the financial eligibility requirement, place a two-year cap on families receiving childcare services while attending a school or a job-training program, and eliminate full-day preschool starting next year.

“The Legislature has really stood up for young children,” said Scott Moore, Senior Policy Advisor at Preschool California. No one got away unscathed, however, and childcare will be taking a $50 million cut and losing 6,000 spaces for children in full-day state preschool, the childcare voucher program, and the infant-toddler child development program.  That’s on top of a billion dollar reduction and 100,000 spaces lost since 2008. Still, said Moore, “it’s significantly less that we were fearing would be cut.”

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  1. Actually the state’s lawsuit is not really about “arguing that the $250 million cost on the books for offering a second year of science is way too high, based on a false assumption that high schools had to add a period to the day to accommodate it, according to Paul Golaszewski, an analyst with the Legislative Analyst’s Office”.  The Commission on State Mandates and the court system has ruled that “the failing to add a period” is factually incorrect.  3

    The State’s lawsuit is about the reimbursement methodology for the Graduation Requirement II claim is too generous (which I agree).

    It is quite easy for a school district to come up with the actual costs of this mandate (identify the classes that fufill the 2nd year requirement, run a master schedule to identify the teachers that teach the class, calculate the teacher’s salary & benefit cost and prorate the cost for the number of classes the teachers teaches, calculate the classes that fufill the 2nd year requirement = done!). 

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  2. Sorry – I meant to say that “the legal argument of failing to add a period” is facually incorrect… 

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  3. I think everyone who has watched the california budget process unfold over the years understands that this is a step in the dance,but hardly the final one.  The legislature needs to adopt a budget by the end of the week in order to meet their statutory obligations,  but the Governor also needs to sign the budget.  So I think most observers expect negotiations to continue through the month (and perhaps through the summer).  But there are several things that are interesting in the legislature ‘s perspective, and a key idea is that weighted student formula (or any other effort to deregulate) should be linked to a substantive rethinking of accountability.   This is an important idea:  as NCLB fades away, California will again have the chance to think through its own accountability approach.   The education community needs to take this task on, and to take it very seriously.

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  4. I’ve read the phrase “as NCLB fades away”, or something like it, several times now.  I’m curious.  How is it “fading away”?  Waiver?  Reauthorization?  Seems to me each iteration of federal “support” for k-12 education over the years has come with tighter and more oppressive strings.  More and more schools and districts are identified as “program improvement” with deeper and deeper sanctions and fewer resources.  How is it fading away?

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  5. My take is that ‘fades away’ is more an expression of hope than reality. While ‘waivers’ are replacing NCLB in practice, they are just doubling down on anti-public school policies. Regardless, I think there is a pretty large consensus that NCLB’s metrics are absurd. When all schools are labeled failures, that moniker will lose all meaning.
    And Merrill, I am interested in whether you think California somehow didnt have the option of thinking through its accountability approach already?  Most of the federal ‘accountability’ metrics are based on California’s tools, and those tools didnt have to look the way they do, even with NCLB. To me, California has proven it really doesnt give a rat’s behind about ‘accountability’. IMHO, its done pretty much nothing but obfuscate what data it does have. And worse, it acts oblivious to the consequences. Perhaps what we really need to do is replace accountability with full and real transparency.

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