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Jerry Brown Prepares to Do Battle for His California Education Budget

For some time, California's budget woes brought to mind a jalopy barely coughing along on a quarter-tank of highly dubious grain alcohol. But thanks to the passage of Proposition 30 last year that lead to broad tax increases earmarked largely for K-12, the prospects have improved, at least from a revenue perspective. And Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, pledged not long after the measure's passage that he would actually simplify things, while also providing a bigger share of funding to districts with the highest proportion of English-language learners and low-income students. In addition, revenues from personal income taxes this year are also ahead of projections, further helping the budget outlook.

The newest budget plan from Brown includes $1 billion in additional spending on K-12 from fiscal year 2013 to fiscal year 2014, thanks to the infusion of Proposition 30 money that helps the fiscal 2013 budget in mid-stream to the tune of $2.9 billion, although the minimum guarantee for state K-12 aid is projected to drop from that level for fiscal 2014.

The Associated Press has examined how Brown's plan for K-12 breaks down. Total education spending would increase by $1,046 per student, and the base per-student funding level is $7,895 in the governor's 2013-14 budget plan. But the real controversy comes with Brown's weighted-funding formula. As part of his initiative to streamline the state's education-funding system, Brown wants to ensure that districts with a higher share of ELLs, low-income students, and students in foster care get a greater share of money. That would mean $1.9 billion in education spending specifically directed at those students under the new formula, or about 4 cents more out of every education dollar. Those numbers, by the way, were released on May 14, and are a revised version of the initial budget plan Brown released in January. Lawmakers have to pass a spending plan by June 15.

In Brown's new budget plan, there's a breakdown of how exactly the money would flow to districts through the new Local Control Funding Formula. (You'll find the breakdown on page 16 at the link.) In addition to the base grant per student, each district would receive a supplemental grant, based on the percentage of ELL, low-income, and foster children. But districts with a share of those students that tops 50 percent would get an extra boost in education spending through a second formula.

In the example used, a hypothetical California district with 41.9 percent of ELL, low-income, and foster students would have a final per-pupil spending amount of $9,053, while a district consisting entirely of students who fall into those categories would have $12,040 available per student. In an initial review of the January version of this formula, the California Legislative Analyst's Office pointed out that nothing in Brown's plan mandates that the supplemental cash actually go to supplemental services for the targeted students. Brown has reportedly tightened accountability for the supplemental money to try to ensure that it gets spent on the students in question.

Brown's plan also includes $1 billion in funding to implement the Common Core State Standards that districts can spend over the next two years. As John Fensterwald at EdSource notes, the chairmen of the Assembly and Senate education committees lobbied Brown to earmark funds for phasing in the new standards.

It's also worth pointing out that while Brown's budget plan includes an increase in K-12 spending, he said he was taking a cautious approach to spending in other respects, and his revised plan for all spending is $1.2 billion less than the one he put forward in January.

But as AP notes, legislators aren't entirely satisfied with what Brown has put out. As you might imagine, the feeling from some relatively wealthy (or at least middle-class) districts is that the formula won't be particularly fair to them. "The local control funding formula is an interesting problem because it's not really a partisan issue. It's more of a geographic issue," Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, a Republican who serves as vice chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, told the AP. And whether by coincidence or not, the government affairs director for the Chamber of Commerce in Gorell's district in Camarillo, Sean Paroski, also tweeted this on May 14: "W/new formula, $1 of $5 will go to English-learner or low-income students. What do suburban schools think of Prop 30 support now?"

Prominent Democrats, like Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, also say they have reservations about how Brown's plan would work, even if they like the general idea, as Fensterwald points out. So Brown has multiple fights on his hands as he presses forward with his plan, and indeed he appears to be approaching them pugilistically, saying that foes of his budget will be in for "the battle of their lives."

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