U.S. Markets closed

Calif budget aims to change education funding

Christina Hoag, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- California Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal announced Thursday includes a sweeping overhaul of K-12 education funding that would provide more money for schools with large numbers of low income students and give districts more control over how they can spend state money.

Fresh off voter-approved hikes in the sales tax and income taxes on the wealthy, the budget proposal allocates $2.7 billion more for elementary and secondary education for the next fiscal year.

School spending would total $56.2 billion for 2013-14. That figure would return the state to nearly prerecession funding after a series of budget cuts.

Besides restoring funds, Brown wants to drastically change the way the state distributes the money to schools.

The proposal retains the current system's feature of awarding money based on a per-pupil average daily attendance formula, but it would add up to 35 percent more based on the proportion of English learners and low income students in each district.

Districts with more than half of their student population classifying as low income, as measured by free or reduced price lunch participation, would receive additional funds in a poverty "concentration" grant.

The shift is sure to cause an outcry among wealthier school districts, but Brown said it is fairer to give more money to low income districts.

"Growing up in Compton or Richmond is not like it is to grow up in Los Gatos or Beverly Hills or Piedmont," he said. "It is controversial, but it is right and it's fair."

In a second major shift, the governor wants to eliminate most "categorical" programs, which are funds that can only be used for a specific purpose. Instead, the money would be given to districts with no strings attached, allowing them to spend the money as they see fit.

Critics say that districts would simply eliminate necessary programs that categorical status is meant to protect.

Of the additional amount allocated for the fiscal year starting July 1, the governor wants to use $1.8 billion to pay school districts what the state already owes them in late payments for previous years.

The budget proposal also would change several other aspects of education funding. Responsibility for adult education, for example, would switch to community colleges, instead of K-12 districts, along with a $300 million funding shift. The change is meant to eliminate redundancies in the current hodge-podge system of both local schools and colleges providing adult education.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement that the change could cut access to classes, which include English as a second language and high school equivalency diplomas.

"I am concerned that severing the longstanding ties these programs have with K-12 districts could diminish access to classes that play a vital role in helping Californians receive the basic education they need to become productive citizens," he said.

The budget also allocates $450 million of revenue from a corporate tax increase to a special fund for school energy efficiency initiatives.


Contact the reporter at https://twitter.com/ChristinaHoag