Analysis: opportunity to fight funding adequacy slips away

Analysis: opportunity to fight funding adequacy slips away

(Calif.) For perhaps the first time in 30 years, the state’s education lobby could seriously challenge the Legislature’s traditional view of the Proposition 98 funding guarantee as a floor and not a ceiling.

But there doesn’t appear to be much interest in taking on that fight despite California’s well-known tumble from one the best funded school systems in the nation during the 1970s, to one of the worst today.

Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled his revised May budget that included $8 billion in unanticipated funding with only a small fraction of that money to be shared with K-12 schools and community colleges.

Rather than challenge the governor, some of the biggest players in education are instead embracing Brown’s plan to put most of that extra money into reserve.

“Educators welcome the good news and appreciate Gov. Jerry Brown for his resolve and long standing commitment to California’s students and neighborhood public schools, colleges and universities,” said Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association, in a statement. “It is truly heartwarming to witness his legacy. One that turned things around for California when experiencing our darkest moments.”

For decades, advocates for public schools have chased lawmakers and governors with the refrain that they were not adequately funding classrooms. That is, just because the state met the Proposition 98 guarantee, they were not improving the status quo.

The response from the Legislature is also well-known—that finding even more additional dollars for schools has been all but impossible even in good economic times, given the needs of other state services.

Conditions are such this year that could test that argument, after Wall Street investors delivered a windfall of unanticipated revenue to the state through 2018-19.

Schools are getting more money, indeed a lot more: the Proposition 98 guarantee next year will hit a record $78.4 billion, and that represents an increase since the nadir of the recession of $4,600 per student.

But, because of the proposition’s arcane funding formulas, the state is required to only give schools what they received last year adjusted for attendance and the growth in per capita personal income.

As a result, the governor has proposed adjusting his January plan by adding just $68 million for schools even though state coffers received billions in unanticipated revenue since the first of the year.

A survey of reactions to the May budget plan suggests the education lobby is OK with the governor’s proposal. Only one group, the California School Boards Association, questioned the logic of his proposal.

The CSBA, which led an unsuccessful lawsuit against the state over funding adequacy a decade ago, tried to remind the governor and the Legislature that even with the boost in spending, California ranks 45th nationally in percent of taxable income spent on education.

“The increase in Proposition 98 guarantee is certainly welcome and will come as a relief to school districts and county offices of education as they grapple with rising transportation, utility and health and welfare costs,” said Mike Walsh, president of the CSBA, in a statement.

“Simply funding (Local Control Funding Formula) to targets set five years ago, however, is nowhere close to the full and fair funding needed,” he said.

There are many reasons why the issue of funding adequacy won’t become a focal point of the budget negotiations this year summer. Perhaps the biggest is that this is Brown’s last budget and as CTA’s Heins points out, the governor did help bring California back from the brink.

Another is that school funding has recovered enough since the recession, that some might argue the state is on the road to adequacy given the size of the overall California economy.

Proposition 98 funding fell to under $48 billion in 2011-12, having hit close to $57 billion in 2007-08. Thus, from that trough seven years ago, funding has grown 66 percent or $31 billion.