February 25 & 26, 2013: The Annual California PTA Legislative Conference (Budget/School Funding)

The California PTA Legislative Conference is an excellent gathering orchestrated by the state PTA and usually happens every spring after everyone’s had a chance to digest the governor’s January budget announcement and State of the State address. (KQED has provided 7, 15, and full 30 minute versions of the State of the State here.) We legislative chairs and “lege trackers” for our respective units and councils get to hear detailed briefings from the top education consultants and analysts in the state. These are staff in the California Legislative Analysts Office, advisors to Assembly and State Senate lawmakers who craft education bills, and legislators themselves. The week I was in Sacramento, the period for the Assembly and State Senate’s official sessions had just closed, and place-holding “spot bills” had been entered along with more full-fledged bills.

This is my account of what we heard from presenters. The main areas of discussion involve Budget/Funding, Teacher Evaluations, Common Core Standards adoption, School Safety, and updates on CA PTA Prior Business.

Budget/Funding Background, Governor Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF)

Jerry Brown 5

Jerry Brown 5 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In January, with his presentation of the state’s budget, Governor Jerry Brown proposed a revamped version of how the state would fund schools with a rider attached to his budget called the Local Control Funding Formula. With LCFF, he proposes to

  1. establish a baseline of per pupil funding that is the same across the state, and
  2. streamline and simplify the pots of money the state allocates to award, above and beyond the baseline per pupil spend, a supplement to educate low-income, English Language Learner, special needs, and other students.

Currently this money, labeled “categoricals,” goes to many different areas and is confusing to track. (See the Public Policy Institute of California’s presentation on LCFF for a detailed look at the plan.)

LCFF would propose to make state funding for schools more equitable (fair) and simpler to understand and administer. It would allocate funds to ?? categories and for schools that have concentrated impoverished/high needs students, it would provide for two bumps of funds above a baseline. The idea here is that students who suffer a wealth gap before they even set foot in a school need more resources to be able to succeed at the educational standards California sets. This is called the equity argument for changing the school funding formula.

The California Department of Finance did a breakdown of what each district would receive under LCFF. You can see what the projected per pupil spend is here.

Suburban and middle class districts dislike the LCFF as it stands, because it throws the past five years’ worth of deferrals to school districts out the window. The state will act as if the baseline going forward is based on today’s per pupil spending, which even with Prop 30 money coming in, is below 2007-2008 levels. This chart from the California Budget Project illustrates how it is that California can have passed Proposition 30 but still be 49th in the nation in state per pupil spending.

CBPpost30-39 budget

(For those who want the gruesome details, I highly recommend the CBP’s report on California school funding, “A Decade of Disinvestment,” as well as the other reports on this page.)

How LCFF as currently proposed would work: in a sample very small Southern California district, LCFF would mean that out of a $40 million annual budget, the $6 million in deferrals would make the starting baseline $34 million plus any bumps for special populations, and NOT a baseline of $40 million plus any bumps for special populations.

The position of most run-of-the-mill districts which are neither Title I/high poverty concentration nor Basic Aid (high property values with little to no funds from the state) is that until deferrals are paid back by the state and districts “made whole” based on that restoration, there should be no LCFF. This is called the adequacy argument, because these middle-of-the-road districts are saying that five or more years of deferrals simply unaccounted for is really a permanent budget cut. The baseline under Brown’s LCFF would start too low.

It’s the position of the California PTA that both equity and adequacy must be addressed by any LCFF changes to state school funding. Proposition 30 “stopped the bleeding,” but didn’t address chronic underfunding and deferral payments to schools.

In addition, the legislature has voiced through Speaker Perez the very strong preference that any changes to the state’s school funding formula go through the legislature.

There are several reasons for this: after the May revise, we’ll know what receipts we received from various revenue sources. And the state will need more than a month (or even four months) to deliberate on the various solutions that Assembly members and State Senators are bound to come up with. There’s no way the legislature can possibly vote to accept the Governor’s budget and his version of LCFF by June 30, 2013.

Analysis, and Report From Visits to Lawmakers

Given the equity vs. adequacy approaches outlined above, what tends to happen is that fights break out between districts who stand to benefit from Governor Brown’s equity adjustments, and those that want to see adequacy addressed before the state moves to re-allocate based on equity. It can veer toward class war territory, with high-poverty districts saying that they’ve been waiting in under-resourced and underfunded conditions for decades now. And the middle-class districts sympathize but do not want to be Peter robbed to pay Paul.

How can this be resolved fairly?

Assemblymember Joan Buchanan (16th AD), Chair of the Assembly Education Committee and for eighteen years a publicly-elected school board member, noted that LAUSD is funded at a much higher level than Fresno, but the two have the same exact demographic profile. (I wondered whether the size of each may impact the amount they receive, but didn’t get a chance to ask this question.) Her point, nevertheless, was that you can’t pit district against district, even ones that are in the same “high-need” niche.

Buchanan did say that in her opinion, there were two key programs that must be made equitable: the Targeted Instructional Block Grant (TIG) and state contribution toward transportation costs. Her example for the latter was Pasadena vs. Palmdale: Pasadena spends $4.4 million on transportation costs and gets reimbursed $2.7 million from the state, but Palmdale is much smaller and spends $4.2 million but gets reimbursed $300,000.

I was part of a delegation that visited State Senator Carol Liu ((not related to me). We met with her chief of staff, who listened carefully to our concerns. The staffer wanted us to know that several possible solutions were brewing in the legislature, as some of the electeds had been teachers previously and/or also had a deep interest in, and commitment to, public education by virtue of service on school boards, and so on. They were not about to abandon high-poverty districts, nor were they interested in re-setting the baseline of per pupil spending at a level well below what peer states like NY, NJ, IL, CT, MA, or VT spend to educate their students.

Staff at State Senator Carol Liu’s office told us about how they had been investigating Community schools in Portland. Community schools (identified in K12NN’s typology of public schools) are a specific kind of public school that nest inside wrap-around services such as health clinics, adult education/English language instruction, social service administration, high quality childcare and after school enrichment, and other on-site programs to help families in need develop the skills and experience necessary for economic empowerment.

The heart of the Community school is the student population it serves, but the idea is that family services are often needed and best delivered on school grounds. So Community schools could be open for longer hours and have more than the student population using the school depending on the time of day or part of the week. I was really excited to hear about this from State Senator Liu’s office, because the idea is to leverage mentorship and training as well as funding and staff to assist schools — and the resources can come from local businesses, community-based organizations, or non-profits, as well as education-specific sources. As we all know, more funding is necessary but at the same time low-income families or ones struggling with crime, addiction, or incarceration often need relationships with other people to help them thrive.

State Senator Liu has been visiting examples of Community schools in other states. Chief among the examples mentioned is a successful program in Portland, OR.

Portland’s SUN System has an unusual structure where the school principal, an education professional, works alongside a co-school leader who administers and organizes all the community assets at the school site. There is also a lead agency manager who coordinates resources in the community and is usually the head of a non-profit. The school really becomes part of the community and the community has a stake in the school in a way it hadn’t previously. Students are the first priority, but are given the attention they need in the context of their families, who also might need assistance.

Most importantly, the Community school approach aligns every resource from school, city, county, state and federal funding to better serve children at schools and their families in the surrounding neighborhood. Parks and Recreation programs are aligned, for example, as are non-profit tutoring or youth after-school programs.

As I listened to Liu’s staffer discuss the meetings around SoCal that Liu and other lawmakers and education advocates were planning, it dawned on me that the beauty of working on Community schools in parallel with the reworking of LCFF would be that state funds would no longer bear the sole burden of ensuring that children from low-income circumstances received an equitable education. Instead, a reworked equitable and adequate school funding formula could be one element that would make for an overall sum greater than each part. The stress of having K-12 funding make up for wealth gaps that children enter school with could be eased by providing the actual additional services that children currently require but aren’t getting.

What I really love about the Community schools model is that it cuts through disarray and dysfunction by bringing together as many resources as possible in an intentional, collaborative, and purposeful way.

If I had Governor Brown’s ear, this is what I would advise him to do: support the spread of Community schools in high-need areas instead of charters. Re-formulate the LCFF after factoring in repayment of deferrals to make all districts whole. By taking these steps, we can achieve both equity and adequacy in K-12 funding that all children in the state need in order to flourish.

Continue on to the next sections of the report: Teacher Evaluations, Common Core Standards adoption, School Safety, and updates on CA PTA Prior Business.

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2 Comments

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