Gov’s revised budget aims even more at special education

Gov’s revised budget aims even more at special education

(Calif.) Gov. Gavin Newsom’s revised May budget doubled down on his proposal to improve special education by providing schools millions more in state support.

In his January spending plan, Newsom earmarked $576 million in new money to improve services to students with disabilities—especially early learners.

Last week, the governor added $119 million more, bringing the total to nearly $700 million.

The problem, as pointed out already by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst, is that the new money would be distributed to districts as a grant that could be used for any purpose within the special education program.

The LAO has also already recommended that lawmakers reject Newsom’s special education plan.

The special education spending is just one of a handful of alterations in the governor’s education budget—starting with an increase of nearly $400 million in the Proposition 98 funding guarantee to $81.1 billion, which would be a new all-time high.

Overall, Newsom’s would spend $214 billion next year, which is also a big jump—$4.5 billion—from January.

Consistent with his prior budget, Newsom would be cautious in the use of the windfall by setting aside $4.5 billion to eliminate budgetary debts; $5.7 billion to reserves; and $4.8 billion to help with unfunded pension liabilities.

 “This budget fortifies California’s fiscal position while making long-sighted investments to increase affordability for California families.” Newsom said in a statement. “The affordability crisis families face in this state is very real, and that’s why this budget tackles those challenges head-on by focusing on housing, health care, early childhood and higher education.”

Today, the state serves about 41,000 infants and toddlers with special needs at a cost of about $370 million, with an additional $50 million coming from a federal grant.

A main provider of support comes from a network of regional centers overseen by the state’s Department of Development Services with almost 100 schools managing their own local programs.

The system, which has remained virtually unchanged for decades, is drawing new attention as more and more districts struggle with the cost of services, as well as the realization that outcomes for SWD continue to decline.

Among the other highlights of the May proposal is another move to tighten restrictions on charter schools.

The governor announced plans to introduce legislation that he said would “level the playing field” between traditional districts and charters when it comes to enrollment. Newsom said the idea would be to “prevent families from being wrongfully turned away from the public school of their choice” by:

  • Prohibiting charter schools from discouraging enrollment or encouraging disenrollment from charter schools based on academic performance or student characteristics (e.g., special education status).
  • Prohibiting charter schools from requesting or requiring the submittal of student academic records prior to enrollment in the charter school.
  • Creating a process for current or prospective charter school families to report concerns to the respective authorizer.
  • Requiring the California Department of Education to determine whether state data can be used to identify charter school enrollment disparities for further investigation and intervention by the respective authorizer.

Newsom signed a bill earlier this year imposing new disclosure requirements on charter board members, as well as mandates for charters to comply with the state’s existing open meeting and public records laws.

Finally, the May budget plan alters Newsom’s big push to provide statewide access to full-day kindergarten.

In January, the governor proposed $750 million to help districts build or remodel classrooms for kindergarten services. The new plan redirects $150 million of that money to teacher training.

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