Gov. Jerry Brown devoted a substantial amount of his State of the State address on Wednesday to education. He introduced a new funding plan and threw out ideas for overhauling tests and pensions.
Here are his (prepared, excerpted) comments regarding education:
“…Next, I want to say something about our schools. They consume more tax dollars than any other government activity and rightly so as they have a profound effect on our future. Since everyone goes to school, everyone thinks they know something about education and in a sense they do. But that doesn’t stop experts and academics and foundation consultants from offering their ideas — usually labeled reform and regularly changing at ten year intervals — on how to get kids learning more and better. It is salutary and even edifying that so much interest is shown in the next generation. Nevertheless, in a state with six million students, 300,000 teachers, deep economic divisions and a hundred different languages, some humility is called for.
In that spirit, I offer these thoughts. First, responsibility must be clearly delineated between the various levels of power that have a stake in our educational system. What most needs to be avoided is concentrating more and more decision-making at the federal or state level. For better or worse, we depend on elected school boards and the principals and the teachers they hire. To me that means, we should set broad goals and have a good accountability system, leaving the real work to those closest to the students. Yes, we should demand continuous improvement in meeting our state standards but we should not impose excessive or detailed mandates.
My budget proposes to replace categorical programs with a new weighted student formula that provides a basic level of funding with additional money for disadvantaged students and those struggling to learn English. This will give more authority to local school districts to fashion the kind of programs they see their students need. It will also create transparency, reduce bureaucracy and simplify complex funding streams.
Given the cutbacks to education in recent years, it is imperative that California devote more tax dollars to this most basic of public services. If we are successful in passing the temporary taxes I have proposed and the economy continues to expand, schools will be in a much stronger position.
No system, however, works without accountability. In California we have detailed state standards and lots of tests. Unfortunately, the resulting data is not provided until after the school year is over. Even today, the ranking of schools based on tests taken in April and May of 2011 is not available. I believe it is time to reduce the number of tests and get the results to teachers, principals and superintendents in weeks, not months. With timely data, principals and superintendents can better mentor and guide teachers as well as make sound evaluations of their performance. I also believe we need a qualitative system of assessments, such as a site visitation program where each classroom is visited, observed and evaluated. I will work with the State Board of Education to develop this proposal.
The house of education is divided by powerful forces and strong emotions. My role as governor is not to choose sides but to listen, to engage and to lead. I will do that. I embrace both reform and tradition—not complacency. My hunch is that principals and teachers know the most, but I’ll take good ideas from wherever they come.
As for pensions, I have put forth my 12 point proposal. Examine it. Improve it. But please take up the issue and do something real. I am committed to pension reform because I believe there is a real problem. Three times as many people are retiring as are entering the workforce. That arithmetic doesn’t add up. In addition, benefits, contributions and the age of retirement all have to balance. I don’t believe they do today. So we have to take action. And we should do it this year…”
Although Brown released his proposed 2012-13 budget earlier this month, administrators at school districts throughout the state are still trying to find out more details about how it affects them. More than 100 school officials attended a School Services of California conference in Sacramento on Wednesday, which laid out an overview of the state budget, then got into nitty-gritty education funding details.
School Services staff advised districts to set aside $370 per student (or Average Daily Attendance) in case voters don’t approve the proposed taxes. Statewide, cuts would equal roughly three weeks of school, but it’s unclear whether that’s where reductions would be made, since unions (and parents) would likely object to shrinking the school year from 180 to 165 days.
Brown’s proposed “weighted” student funding formula was first dreamed up by Michael Kirst, who is now President of the State Board of Education, according to Robert Miyashiro, School Services vice president. Brown proposes phasing in the program over five years, with 20 percent of 2012-13 funding according to the new model and 80 percent doled out the old way (with revenue limits based on elementary, unified and high school districts — along with lots of restricted “categorical” funding for specific programs, such as class size reduction).
“Right now,” Miyashiro said, “there’s nothing in writing that we can tell you specifically.”
Essentially, he said, the governor wants to take all the money and put it into a big pot, then distribute it according to a formula based on the number of students, with extra weight given to English language learners and poor students who are eligible for free and reduced price lunches.
“Overall, there will be winners and losers if it is implemented in 2012-13,” Miyashiro said. “This is a big problem for your planning. This is a huge problem.”
He predicted the governor might present a trailer bill in February with more details and reminded district officials that the Legislature would have to approve the idea before it would become law.
The budget would provide more money for charter schools, boosting the general purpose block grant amount to about $6,188 per student for grades 9-12, plus $410 from a categorical block grant, for a total of approximately $6,598 per student. The governor aims to level the playing field for charters by providing more borrowing options, mandate reimbursements and more flexibility related to facilities costs.
Although most categorical program funding would be eliminated, money would still be available through QEIA (Quality Education Investment Act) and ASES (after-school programs).
Another major change in the governor’s budget is the elimination of funding for Transitional Kindergarten, which was originally expected to begin in the fall.
The Legislature has changed the date by which traditional kindergarten students must turn 5 — from Dec. 2 to Nov. 1 — under the assumption that those who turned 5 from Nov. 2 to Dec. 2 would enter a new transitional kindergarten.
Under the governor’s proposal, approximately 40,000 students statewide would be denied that option. Instead, the $223.7 million originally planned for Transitional Kindergarten will be used to fund existing programs.
Districts should evaluate staffing to see if they need to notify more teachers of possible layoffs in March, based on this. But, under state law, any school can admit students who will turn 5 anytime during the year on a case-by-case basis.
School districts should also watch their cash flow very carefully, due to deferred funding.
It is wise to retain large “ending fund balances” to plan for possible budget cuts, said John Gray, executive director of School Services. Still, he acknowledged that many unions are eyeing that money and asking for a piece of it.
“If you give away your ending fund balance,” Gray said, “your third year (in multi-year projections) could be very problematic.”
He suggested that union contracts include contingency language, based on different budget scenarios. New laws regarding collective bargaining have extended the right of representation to part-time and substitute employees, but management and confidential employees are still excluded.
And as of Jan. 1, school boards cannot raise contracts for local education executives such as superintendents that exceed the California Consumer Price Index. Also, boards cannot approve these raises at special meetings, said Sheila Vickers, vice president of School Services.
She also cautioned that lawsuits regarding special education, child molestation and student injuries and harassment are on the rise.
In closing, Gray said he is seeing more district administrators, superintendents and boards paying attention to the economy because they realize that what happens in world, national and state economies affects schools.
Do you support the governor’s education proposals?