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Unveiling K-12 Budget, Calif. Governor Criticizes Washington-Driven Reforms

California Gov. Jerry Brown presented a proposed budget for fiscal year 2016 that includes a significantly higher level of resources for public schools than the current fiscal year's budget.

Brown used the announcement to call attention to a couple other things, too. He reiterated his skepticism about the spate of federally directed education reforms under President Barack Obama. And he revealed his plan to reduce the state's long-term liabilities for state retirees' health care benefits.

For fiscal 2016, the budget Brown released Jan. 9 includes about $51 billion for K-12 under the state's Local Control Funding Formula for K-12, a $4 billion increase from the current year's spending on the formula, which was adopted by the legislature in 2013. Annual per-student spending by the state from the general fund budget would increase by $300 from the present year up to $9,670. (Since the local control formula was passed, the state has spent $6.8 billion over the last two fiscal years to fund increases included in the formula.)

What's driving much of the K-12 spending increase in Brown's budget is the rosier-than-expected fiscal environment in the state, where the state is getting $2 billion more in revenue in fiscal 2015 than officials originally projected. Proposition 98 in California requires a certain share of the state's general fund budget to be spend on K-14 education, which includes community colleges. Total Proposition 98 funding in fiscal 2016 is pegged at approximately $66 billion in Brown's budget.

In his budget presentation, Brown placed the 2013 funding formula alongside programs to expand health care access and minimum-wage increases as ways the state is "addressing poverty and income inequality."

However, the governor could face a fight in the K-12 community over his budget proposal to cut the state's unfunded liability for state retiree health care costs. In short, the governor's plan would require state employees to split the costs of pre-funding health benefits for state retirees. Here's how Brown put the situation in visual terms in his budget.

CAHealthCare.PNGIt's the second year that the governor has tried to tackle long-term retirement costs. Last year, Brown pushed a plan to reduce California's long-term obligations for teacher pensions by increasing the share of the cost born by districts. 

Brown also took a few moments to comment on broader K-12 policy issues, and, as he is fond of doing, stressed that he continued to regard signature policy initiatives from Washington, including No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, with strong skepticism. (Remember, the state won a stand-off with Secretary Arne Duncan about its double-testing waiver from NCLB.) 

"A lot of this remote direction has not proved to add all that many benefits," Brown said. "At the end of the day, it's still the teacher in the classroom."

In his Jan. 9 remarks, he also cautioned against treating the Vergara v. California case as a "silver bullet" for K-12. Brown and state Superintendent Tom Torlakson are defendants in the case, and have appealed a judge's Vergara ruling from last year.

Roughly a year ago, Brown used his inaugural address to make essentially the same point when he said about the local control formula: "There is no way the state can micromanage teaching and learning."

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