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Approved Calif. Budget Includes More Common-Core Funding, Pre-K Expansion

California lawmakers have approved a K-12 budget for fiscal 2015 that includes added money to help districts transition to the Common Core State Standards, more slots for the state's pre-K program, and higher per-student funding. 

The budget, passed on June 15, includes a $4.7 billion increase to continue the state's transition to the Local Control Funding Formula, which is designed to significantly increase K-12 funding between 2013 and 2020. The formula also is intended to grant greater power over spending decisions to districts, and direct more resources to low-income students, students in foster care, and English-language learners. 

Under the state's Proposition 98, which guarantees a minimum level of education spending, the state's K-12 aid to districts will rise $3.6 billion a total of $53.6 billion for fiscal 2015, reports the always-helpful John Fensterwald of EdSource.

Fensterwald also focuses on another budgetary change for districts, a new cap on the amount of money districts can keep in reserve. (For most districts, the cap would be 6 percent of their budgets.) Supported by unions, local school boards in California have blasted the change as, among other things, fiscally irresponsible and not in keeping with the new funding formula that is supposed to provide districts with more control over such decisions. 

Helping the Transition

There's also common-core-related news in the California budget. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, approved $1.25 billion in state aid to districts to spend on common-core materials and training over two years. In the fiscal 2015 budget just approved, lawmakers set aside an additional $450 million for districts to use to make the shift to the standards.

But there's a twist.

A California Senate analysis of the education-spending bill states that the money is intended for common-core implementation and that districts "could" use it to help them shift to the standards. But there's apparently nothing in the budget that prevents local officials from using the money for programs or resources not directly related to the common core. So just how much of the $450 million will actually supplement the $1.25 billion in terms of common-core spending remains to be seen. 

Early Learning and Careers

On the early-education front, Democratic lawmakers wanted to expand the state's two-year transitional kindergarten program to every child in the state. Instead, the budget represents a compromise, with an additional $155 million to expand the California State Preschool Program, a separate early-education program. Brown did not include the transitional-kindergarten expansion in either his January or May budget proposals, so Democrats who sought the expansion were fighting an uphill battle. 

In addition, the Career Pathways initiative, created in 2013 to fund "work-based learning" and strengthen schools' connections to regional business, will get a $250 million boost in the budget in the form of new one-time grants. (The program was given $250 million in grant funds to distribute last year.) Career Pathways happens to be one of the programs Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who's up for re-election this  year, likes to highlight as a signature achievement of his tenure

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