By Ileana Najarro
California Governor Jerry Brown announced a proposal last week for a balanced 2013-14 state budget, directing more funding into education.
Along with the budget, the governor proposed a set of policy changes—based on a report co-written by former Stanford education professor Michael Kirst, currently the president of the California State Board of Education—that would grant additional funding to schools with a high concentration of low-income and English learner students.
“It is really a comprehensive overhaul of the school finance system and the largest change since the passing of Proposition 13 in 1978,” Kirst said.
The governor’s budget proposal provides $2.7 billion next year for K-12 schools and community colleges and $19 billion by 2016-2017, according to a state press release. Much of the additional funding comes from Proposition 30, which passed in the November 2012 election and raises income taxes for education.
David Plank, executive director of Policy Analysis for California Education and professor at the Stanford School of Education, said that the governor’s proposal marks a significant shift from the last five years of education budget cuts.
“In an environment where there is money, it is much easier to talk about the way money gets distributed,” he said.
The new budget proposal includes policy changes to the distribution of educational funding, including raising the amount of individual student base grants across all school districts and providing an additional grant to schools with over 50 percent of students who are low-income and English learners.
The proposed distribution change, especially the added support for low-income and English learner students, draws from a research paper called “Reforming California School Finance” co-written by Kirst in 2008. Kirst said that providing more aid to these schools marks a shift in the educational finance system to become more need-based.
“When you get done with all the bells and whistles in the current school finance program, it’s pretty much a flat grant with every pupil getting a similar amount regardless of their needs,” Kirst said.
Plank explained that low-income and English learning students bring in problems they face in their communities to the classrooms, making it difficult for teachers to properly reach out and help them. He has been waiting for a policy that addresses these concerns by providing these schools with the needed funds to best serve their students.
“It would be very good public policy,” Plank said. “The problem with good public policy is that often the politics don’t work.”
While Kirst is optimistic for the policy changes to pass the legislature, he recognized the opposition from supporters of categorical programs.
Categorical programs, such as art education and vocational training, are funded directly by the state. Under the new policy proposal, categorical funding for many of the 56 current programs would be eliminated, along with educational regulations around them. The funding for these programs would instead be included in the increased base grants.
Plank also sees this part of the proposal as a potential stumbling block.
“People who think arts education is really important, for example, may be resistant to the governor’s proposal because now there is no specific funding for arts education,” Plank said.
With no direct state support for these programs, Plank explains that there is the possibility they cease to exist, since it will now be up to individual school districts to decide whether they should include them.
The Palo Alto Unified School District, for instance, would no longer be required to offer categorical programs like art education, nor would it receive any state funds if they chose to continue offering them, Plank said.
On the other hand, should the policy be approved by the legislature, school districts within East Palo Alto would benefit from additional money to the base grant increase that all state districts will receive.
“This is a system that’s designed to help East Palo Alto, ultimately at the expense of Palo Alto, in the sense that some of the money that Palo Alto gets will go to East Palo Alto,” Plank said.
The governor’s inclusion of the policy changes with the budget proposal was a strategic move to avoid lobbying efforts that wish to preserve categorical funding, Plank explained. If the legislature disapproves of the combined proposals within the next few weeks, any policy changes would have to be drafted into bills and undergo a longer process for implementation.
Kirst said that with rising revenues and a balanced state budget, this is the best time for the policy proposal to win legislative votes. If opposition from legislators does end up killing the program, Kirst pledged that he would continue the work.
“We’ll keep trying again,” he said. “The governor has one more year left in office, and if we don’t win this time, we’ll try again.”