Brown’s May budget ties schools, state services to November ballot

California's public school emerged largely unscathed from Gov. Jerry Brown's revised May budget released Monday, although any relief is contingent on voter approval of a tax hike in November.

The governor drew headlines over the weekend that the budget shortfall had ballooned from $9 billion to almost $16 billion during recent months - but because of the influence of Proposition 98, schools can expect to receive almost the same money that the governor proposed in January while virtually all other state departments and services are looking at deep cuts.

But that's only if taxes are approved in November.

If not, schools face the lion's share of the cuts, some $5.5 billion coming as a result of the administration saving $2.8 billion by not paying back deferrals owed and the remaining $2.7 billion would come as a program cut to K-14 schools.

Districts then would be authorized to trim the school year by a total of 15 days through 2013-14, in addition to the five days already in law.

The combination of factors has some school officials looking at the plan with unease.

John Deasy, superintendent of Los Angeles Unified, said tying the budget to the election makes decision-making on the local level almost impossible.

If the measure passes, this will give schools some badly needed funds that have been promised over the past several years," Deasy said in a statement. "If voters do not pass the initiative, the results are so catastrophic it is simply untenable.

"I am deeply concerned about the cash disbursements required to run the district," he said. "This issue is absent from the current budget conversation."

The new plan was released by Brown at a news conference in Sacramento, and he used the statewide media opportunity to make a pitch to voters in support of his November tax measure.

"Government does a lot of good things," he explained. "Government is a nurse, it's a teacher. It's a highway patrolman. It's someone working in a mental hospital, and when we cut, that's what we cut. And there are ideologues who say government is an abstraction that you can just completely eviscerate with no impact in the real world, and that isn't true."

Beyond the big numbers, much of the attention from the education community on the governor's revised May plan has been - and will continue to be - focused on his proposal to restructure school financing.

Following a number of public hearings in the Capitol where the governor's plan drew much criticism and opposition, Brown made a number of policy changes.

The so-called weighted formula proposes to consolidate the many programs and funding sources the state provides to schools into one system with a base, per-pupil grant augmented by additional support for economically disadvantaged students and English learners.

In a key concession, the governor has agreed to increase the base grant from $4,920 per pupil to $5,421 - a level equal to the current average revenue limit for unified school districts.

In concert with that, Brown would lower funding set aside for the supplemental and concentration grants aimed at disadvantaged students. Districts will receive a supplemental grant equal to 20 percent of the base grant for each unduplicated free and reduced price lunch or English learner student.

In recognition that educating older students costs more, the governor also is proposing a grade span funding adjustment that would be built into the formula - separating grants for K-3; grades 4 through 6; grades 7 and 8, and 9 through 12. The new adjustments to each grade span would work in the same way the current charter funding model works.

Brown also would provide a longer transition period - moving implementation to a seven-year schedule rather than the six years previously proposed.

In another response to criticism, the governor is proposing to fund the unpaid cost of living adjustment known as the deficit factor, as well as a pay-down of state debt to schools related to apportionment deferral - but both would be contingent on higher revenues beginning in 2013-14.

Brown has proposed flexibility for the K-3 class size reduction program but wants to provide those funds to the K-3 grade span through higher base grants, to ensure the funding currently going into K-3 Class Size Reduction will continue to be allocated to districts with students in those grades.

In a move to accommodate critics, the governor would preserve funding that flows to districts for the Targeted Instructional Improvement Block Grant and Home to School Transportation. But these programs will not be included in the flexible block grant.

The administration has pointed out that while these programs will not be included in block grant allocations, they will be funded as add-ons' to the weighted, per-pupil base, and will be fully flexible.

To read the May Revise click here: more