County School Officials Hail Gov. Brown's 'Refreshing' New Budget Proposal

Despite proposing a major shift in how public schools are funded that would benefit districts serving low-income communities, governor proposed state budget for 2013-14 draws praise.

With a slowly recovering economy and the recent passage of temporary taxes via Prop. 30, Gov. Jerry Brown has unveiled his proposed 2013-2014 budget and suggested a major shift in how schools are funded. The proposal drew praise from Marin County public schools officials for its heightened attention to public education, as it increases per-student funding for all levels of education.

“It’s a refreshing change from previous budgets in recent years, that's for sure” said Terena Mares, assistant superintendent for the Marin County Office of Education.

Mares said she was also pleased with the “governor’s attempt at changing the funding structure for our schools.” That proposed change was two-fold: underprivileged schools would get more per-student funding than other schools, and most categorical funding for schools would be eliminated, with the money delivered more directly to districts across the state.

"Our future depends not on across-the-board funding, but disproportionately funding those schools that have disproportionate challenges," Brown said at a press conference. 

In coming years, suburban school districts may end up paying the price to help the underserved, but Brown said only the shortsighted would not agree with his self-described progressive plan to bring equality.

“It’s a classic case of justice to unequals [sic]," he added. "We have to give more to approach equality. That’s the principle. I think that’s a powerful principle."

If passed, it would be the most substantial change in public school funding since Proposition 13 passed in 1978, Michael Kirst, the State Board of Education president, told the Sacramento Bee.

Mares said the specific impact on individual districts in Marin won't be known for a while, as Brown's budget is merely a proposal into which the State Legislature must sink its teeth. While most school districts in Marin are "basic aid" and are largely funded through property taxes, the San Rafael City School District, Novato Unified School District and Ross Valley School District are "revenue limit" districts and rely on a larger amount of funds from the state.

In addition to that distinction, the impact on Marin districts will largely be determined by the number of English language learners in a district and the number of students who receive federally subsidized lunches for low-income residents, Mare said.

Brown proposed a similar plan last year: a so-called “weighted student formula” that gets rid of a lot of special programs and allots money at a flat rate per student, giving an extra 35 percent for low-income students and English learners. The idea, however, was ultimately trimmed from the budget.

This year, he’s calling it “local flexibility,” and it’s designed to be implemented in phases. The plan would give more money to school districts that have at least 50 percent of their population as poor or English learners. 

However, suburban schools – which have been hurting financially along with the rest of the state – may ultimately get pinched. Brown said he was OK with that.

“Our future depends on it. If we don’t invest adequate funds in our children and their education, we will not have the economic well-being in future years,” he said. Aging suburbanites need a strong, younger work force to support them.

“One of the most important ways we do that is to invest in schools and disproportionately invest in those schools where there is greater difficulty in learning,” he said.  “I think the majority of the people are going to see that. “

He pointed out that schools in Beverly Hills and Los Gatos are far better off than those in Compton or Richmond. 

Brown also said the state's deficit is gone for the first time in years, adding it could reduce California's debt substantially by 2016.

"The deficit's gone; the wall of debt remains," Brown said, noting the state's $36-billion debt could be reduced to $4.3 billion by 2016. 

The budget proposed by Brown also increases per-student funding for all levels of education. By the 2016-17 school year, K-12 schools would see a $2,681 increase in spending for each student. At the CSU and UC levels, spending would increase by about $2,000 and $2,500 by 2016-17, respectively. 

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