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California Gov. Brown Proposes $4 Billion Boost for Schools and More Local Control

California's Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, said last week he wants to add $4 billion to the state's school funding formula, empower local officials to make better decisions to improve schools, and curtail a teacher shortage that's hampered schools throughout the state. 

The ambitious education agenda, detailed in his state-of-the-state speech and in a subsequent press conference, could help set the education agenda for statewide elections: Brown and state chief Tom Torlakson are not running for reelection because they have reached their term limits.  

The state is in a protracted debate over what role the state should play in improving schools. U.S. Secretary Betsy  DeVos critiqued its state accountability plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act for having amorphous state definitions of student success. She also called the state's proposal confusing, and said it leaves too many decisions up to local officials.  

 But Brown and state board chair Michael Kirst say local leaders are best equipped to make decisions for school improvement.  

Local leaders have told researchers that they lack the staffing and resources to analyze data, create budgets, and spur innovation in schools. 

In his 2018-19 proposed budget, Brown  sets  aside $55 million for county offices of education to better help school districts identify and help low-performing student groups; $6.5 million to fund the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, a state agency tasked with overseeing school turnaround initiatives in the state (I wrote about that program here); and $300,000 to improve the usefulness of the state's politically fraught school report card, which parents have complained is confusing and not very useful. 

"This is not going to be solved in Sacramento. Kids learn at home and in the classroom," Brown said in a press conference, according to local reports. "People who really want to help in a school that is not performing should go to the principal and find out what they need. Local empowerment. That's what it's all about. The age of micromangement from Washington or Sacramento is over as far as I am concerned." 

In addition, California, like several other states is experiencing a teacher shortage that's forced state legislators to rethink the way they discuss teacher quality and recruitment.  

Brown also set aside $100 million in his budget for the state to recruit and train special education teachers. Half the money will establish teacher residencies and the other half will be used as competitive grants for districts proposing solutions to the special education teacher shortage, according to EdSource.  

If passed, Brown will leave his office with the state's K-12 and community college's funding formula, known as Proposition 98, funded to the level that the state law requires. with $78.3 billion, up from $74.3 billion. That's two years ahead of schedule. (Community colleges consume 11 percent of the funding.) The state's voters passed a sales and income tax increase in 2012 that's fueled the boost in school spending.  

California is expecting this year to reach pre-recession funding levels.  But many district superintendents in the state say operations costs have soared so much in recent years, the state's current spending on schools still not enough.  

"Our school district greatly appreciates Gov. Brown's support for public education," said George Mannon, the superintendent of Torrance Unified and the leader of the California School Funding Coalition said, according to EdSource. "With that said, every school district in California is facing a dilemma: the inadequacy of base funding to cover the fixed costs imposed since the creation of the LCFF and without additional funding."  


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