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The state of education in California, according to governor

By Theresa Harrington
Thursday, January 19th, 2012 at 2:17 pm in California, Education.

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?

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  • http://www.k12reboot.com Jim

    The myriad categorical funding programs evolved for a reason. They represent the carrots and — when withdrawn — the sticks that the state uses to micromanage local districts in its futile attempt to impose accountability “from above”. The state and federal governments do this because so many people recognize that many school district leaders act as if they are accountable to no one, even as they run their little monopoly fiefdoms into the ground. Gov. Brown may want to go back to relying solely on local school boards for accountability, but we’re seeing a pretty vivid example of the weakness of that approach, right here in MDUSD. School boards are accountable to the narrow interests that keep them in office and to no one else. Even a polite “please” from our gentle governor is not going to change that.

    Fortunately, as the former mayor of Oakland, he has direct experience with the devastating impacts that poor schools can have on a community. He knows how dysfunctional traditional public school systems can be, so one can hope that his comments on treating charters with greater financial fairness are sincere.

    As far as cutting back on tests, despite all of the complaining from some educators, most students take only the one series of STAR tests each year. If he proposes reducing one test to none, that will not exactly strike a blow for greater accountability.

  • Ross

    With all due respect to the Jim, local school boards are democratically elected and provide a forum and process for local control over decisions that affect the community and schools. To deride a school board is more of an indictment of democracy than school accountability. Without exception, every school takeover in this country by a state or mayor has succeeded in maintaining the status quo at best and has ruined communities and schools at worst. I’m pleased to see Brown’s comments because, at the very least, they signal a potential awakening among power brokers that current economic policy, most notably NCLB, is terrible. The notion that 100% of students should be proficient, that schools that fail to annually approach that benchmark should be penalized, that standardized testing tells us all we need to know about teacher quality, that it is somehow healthy to continually close schools, fire staff, hire new staff, move and split up schools, or provide choice between schools and let schools compete against each other will do anything but decimate education is illogical and, quite frankly, insane.
    The existence of STAR testing at the HS level is not the problem. Tests are not the problem. It’s how you use those tests that has become problematic. Using data to better inform practice is one thing. Using data to make sweeping allegations about the quality of teaching and the quality of the school is another matter entirely. As schools have in fact increased scores, STAR and all other tests like it have created worse teaching and pedagogy. The content, the critical thinking, the creativity, the risk-taking by teachers and students has given way to test preparation strategies, test practice, and strange vocabulary around test taking strategies (when I taught in Baltimore, the students didn’t even know what a paragraph was because it was known as a BCR: Brief constructed response. They were taught to use the RACER method on each BCR; whatever that means). The irony of course is we think schools are getting better when in fact they are worse.
    My hope is that this is a small step towards reclaiming educational rhetoric and discourse from the corporations and billionaire foundations.
    HERE ARE SOME STEPS TO INFORM YOURSELF:
    1. Read Diane Ravitch’s “The Death and Life of the Great American School System.”
    2. Watch “Race to Nowhere”
    3. Visit a school that has been labeled “failing” for not meeting annual yearly progress (AYP) and see how STAR has taken over.
    4. Visit as many charters as possible. Statistics say that the majority will be no better or worse than regular public schools even though they are not forced to educate every child like regular public schools.
    5. Finally, check out the following columns and blogs. Free yourself from the “deform” movement:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet
    http://www.alfiekohn.org/index.php
    http://www.joebower.org/
    http://gyrewide.blogspot.com/
    http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/
    http://www.classsizematters.org/

  • Doctor J

    Ross, school boards function in varying degrees of effectiveness mostly depending upon the motives of the individual members — Theresa did a great contrast between Pittsburg and MDUSD with regard to the QEIA waivers pending. Pittsburg is a well oiled machine, and MDUSD looked like the 3 Stooges in slow motion. MDUSD has had a dysfunctional school board for quite some time — that is not an indictment of democracy since the MDUSD board members are elected in cycles and do not represent geographical sectors within the district. What would the US House of Representatives be like if all 435 were elected “at large” throughout the whole US every two years. Likewise, in MDUSD we don’t see representation from Bay Point and other areas. Despite years of promises of “transparency” we have received just the opposite — secrecy and obstructionism. When a member of the Bond Oversight committee asks for documents to do her job, is stonewalled, and then finally is provided the documents she is legally entitled to, but only if she pays $150 for them — you call that democracy. Where are the Measure C audits that are long overdue ? While they are delayed, the construction continues at a sonic pace.
    I don’t know if you attended the Diane Ravitch lecture on Friday night in Sacramento sponsored by the California Teachers Association. She offered only criticisms, but no solutions. Interestingly, she stopped by the newspaper before her lecture, and of course Coach Torlakson had to have a few words to say too ! http://www.sacbee.com/2012/01/21/4203977/diane-ravitch-shares-her-views.html
    Gov. Brown’s so far vague proposal calls for more public access to the finances of the districts in order to provide oversight and provide checks and balances on the school boards. Here in MDUSD that might be a significant improvement — but only if the school board doesn’t choose the “oversight” committee. if it wasn’t for the CVCHS chartergate, it probably would never have come to light that the Board and Supt have been shortchanging high schools in order to fund elementary schools at higher levels. In MDUSD there is way too much secret discussion going on in so called “closed session evaluations” held almost every month. Ross, just tell me one thing about the openness in MDUSD — since both SIG Grants, Cohorts 1 and 2, were based on MOU’s with MDEA, please show me where on the Board agenda’s these MOU’s were considered approved by the Board ? You think that is democracy and openness ? Frankly, is secrecy and obstructionism.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Dr. J: The MDUSD board will discuss ideas for more accountability and transparency on Monday: http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_19785259.

    I agree that the board should have publicly approved both the SIG applications and the MOUs. Instead, the board gave staff permission to apply for the SIGs — without actually seeing the applications. It’s unclear how the MOUs were approved without a public board vote.

    Although the SIGs require annual evaluation reports, the board never received such a report. Instead, the report was apparently delivered privately to a select group of administrators. The public and board deserve to see how the SIG money is being spent and to see whether the plans the district committed to are being implemented. Otherwise, the public and board have no guarantee that what happened with QEIA at MDHS won’t be repeated. The board is trusting staff to carry out the SIG grant requirements, without any proof that it is actually doing so.

  • Doctor J

    @TH#4 We already know that staff failed to carry out the SIG grant cohort 1 plan, and funding was suspended by CDE and the Feds until a “Corrective Action Plan” was filed and approved. The Board and public has no accountability on whether the CAP for Cohort 1 is being followed without a detailed accountability report. Why isn’t the district required to disclose the accountability report ? Is it filed with CDE or the US Ed Dept ?

  • g

    Theresa, since they may look at reporting back on things they have spent money for, and since they are talking about reallignment studies for Clayton Valley patterns, I wonder if we ever got a report for the Jack Schreder reallignment study contract that they approved last May for Meadow Homes and Delta View areas. $14,500.00 plus his $125/hour travel time.

    I see almost every month various payments going to him for his never-ending string of contracts, but have no idea if he ever did those May studies.

    No doubt he’ll get a new no bid contract for the CVCHS study too…….

  • Alicia M.

    @TH #4 – I also believe the district’s application to the Internal Revenue Service in August 2009 for $59 million in Clean Renewable Energy Bonds should have been approved by the Board. I hope that when the Board discusses accountability and transparency that they decide to revise their written policies and procedures to include a requirement that any application for indebtedness be subject to approval by the board.

  • Alicia M.

    @TH #4 – Theresa, do you know if our school Board is bonded? This board should be bonded so that they follow, at a minimum, the basic standards of conduct and to provide protection against potential dishonest acts and/or gross negligence by Board members.

  • karen love

    Jerry Brown’s job is not to come up with exact policies, it is to lead the state in a positive direction, as I feel he has done in this speech. However, I would like to make 3 points about our schools:
    1) the ADA issue needs to be addressed. I support Benicia public schools, and they get less per pupil than any other district in the state. These dollars should be divided up 100% equally– per child– and then troubled school districts can get needed extra dollars from other sources.2) Very rich school districts (ie acalanes) are enhanced by their ed foundations to such a degree that they create de facto private schools. These educated parents know that donating 3000 per year to essentially secure their child a private school education at mostly taxpayer expense is nothing compared to the real cost of a private school. this inequity must be addressed. 3) lastly, Jerry’s description of our extremely diverse population deserves some further thought. In my youth, the goal of public schools was to create a blended populace– epluribus unum. Now– the emphasis on multi-culturalism, bilingual classrooms, etc, creates an atmosphere of divisiveness rather than “we are all in this together.” That is one of the ills that fares our land. This earlier mission of our public schools needs to be revitalized.

  • Theresa Harrington

    g: There is virtually no information in the agenda report regarding the proposal for CVHS boundaries, so it’s hard to know if Schreder had a hand in it: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=4913&mtgId=336.

    Alicia: I don’t know if the school board is bonded. Trustees do take an oath when they are sworn in, in which I think they promise to abide by the law and act in the best interests of the district. I don’t know the exact language offhand, though.

    Regarding the IRS CREBs application, this is an excellent point. I was very surprised this never came before the board. Hansen’s “accountability progress reports” will be virtually meaningless if the district continues to conduct this kind of business in private, without any board approval. Will you speak at the meeting tonight to point this out? Also, trustees expect to discuss possible policy revisions at their Feb. 4 board retreat.

  • g

    I would expect Hansen to present her request for “accountability reports”, you will be able to hear the sighs and rolling of eyes at the dais, and a vote down of 3-2.

    The new board president only wants to meet once a month for her money–no way in hell is she willing to sit through reading of reports. She already itches and fidgets enough as it is!

  • Doctor J

    Lawrence missed another legal deadline today. After being named in October as a Program Improvement District, Lawrence had three months to file a LEA Plan Addendum addressing the PI Status,causes,and corrections. CDE set today as the deadline. It had to be Board APPROVED. Never submitted to the Board. Who from the public was involved in developing the plan ? How many people at Dent can’t read ?

    “Addendum to Local Educational Agency Plan
    The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Section 1116(c)(7)(A) requires that local educational agencies (LEAs) identified for Program Improvement (PI) shall, no later than three months after being identified, develop or revise an LEA Plan, in consultation with parents, school staff, and others. Rather than completely rewriting the district’s existing LEA Plan, the California Department of Education (CDE) requires writing a Plan Addendum to address the items described below. A template for the LEA Plan Addendum (Updated Sep-2011; DOC; 83KB; 6pp.) is available, along with a review guideline (Updated Sep-2011; DOC; 133KB; 5pp.).
    LEAs should begin the plan revision with an analysis of the reason(s) for PI identification. The LEA should conduct an in-depth analysis of its achievement data patterns and current educational practices to determine whether it obtained PI status because of the achievement or participation rate of a single group, or because of multiple low achievement trends across grade spans and/or subject areas. The state has developed several analytic tools (listed below) to inform the LEA planning process. Use of these tools is required to ensure that the needs of all students are addressed. (California Education Code Section 52055.57[6]) LEAs should begin implementing the plans outlined in the LEA Plan Addendum immediately upon its completion and local board approval. ”

    All the details are listed here: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/ti/pirequirement.asp

  • Doctor J

    MDUSD must stop stonewalling citizens who ask for district records. Here is a primer on WHY the public is allowed access, and WHAT is a public record.
    WHY ? California law says: “access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state.” WHY ? Prompt public access to government records is “intended to safeguard the accountability of government to the public.”
    WHAT RECORDS OF MDUSD DO WE HAVE ACCESS TO: Public records are broadly defined to include “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of a public’s business prepared, owned, used or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristic[.]” The courts have said: “This definition is intended to cover every conceivable kind of record that is involved in the governmental process and will pertain to any new form of record-keeping instrument as it is developed. Only purely personal information unrelated to ‘the conduct of the public’s business’ could be considered exempt from this definition, i.e., the shopping list phoned from home, the letter to a public officer from a friend which is totally void of reference to governmental activities.” Want to know more ? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Public_Records_Act

  • Doctor J
  • Theresa Harrington

    I am attempting another live blog of tonight’s meeting: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2012/01/23/live-blog-of-jan-23-mdusd-board-meeting/

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here are President Obama’s education priorities: http://bit.ly/zYXG0G