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Governor revs up state Board of Education during funding discussion

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, January 17th, 2014 at 12:44 pm in California Board of Education, Education, Gov. Jerry Brown.

When Gov. Jerry Brown popped in on the state Board of Education meeting Thursday, the public speaker at the microphone said: “I’ve never been more perfectly interrupted.”

Brown showed up to rally those on both sides of a debate over funding regulations around the idea that no matter who would win small victories in language that will guide school districts in spending new money — the real winners will be the students. He reminded the board that the Local Control Funding Formula they were discussing was based on the principle of subsidiarity, or “focusing authority where it can be most effectively exercised … at the lowest, most competent level.”

The family, he said, is the primary institution in society. From there, Brown said, authority goes up to a parish, a city, a school and to other agencies.

“I think we always have to keep in mind when we sit around here, we’re not omnipotent,” he said. “A little humility is in order.”
Brown said regulations created by the board don’t really matter much when a teacher shuts a classroom door and works directly with students.

“And if the parents aren’t doing the right thing, if the teacher’s not doing the right thing, if the principal’s not doing the right thing, if the superintendent at the local school district isn’t doing the right thing and if the elected school board members are insensitive, then it’s highly dubious to think that the people around this table are going to be able to make up for it,” he said. “At the end of the day, we do depend on families, teachers, principals and people spread out throughout the entire state who have responsibility for our 6 million students.”

While acknowledging that the regulations and guidelines to be approved were important, Brown said they should not be “prescriptive commands from headquarters.” Instead, he urged flexibility to allow for different perspectives, with the overall goal of improving student achievement, directing more money to schools with greater challenges and establishing a mechanism for accountability. However, he cautioned that accountability is most effective at the local level.

“The further you get from the classroom,” he said, “the less effective your instruction, your conversation or your command.”

Drawing applause, Brown praised school leaders, education advocates and the California Teachers Association for helping to pass Proposition 30, which he said made the debate over funding regulations possible.

“If we didn’t have the money,” he said, “we wouldn’t even be here fighting over the regulations.”

Brown also received a few chuckles, when he added: “This is not the New Testament. It’s not the law in the prophets. This is just some mundane regulations that are much better because of the participation of the equity groups and others.”

Calling this “a great opportunity to fashion a more effective learning environment,” Brown said he didn’t want to lose sight of the students.

“They have responsibility as well,” he said. “It isn’t like just pouring this noun called ‘education’ into the heads of students. It’s an intransitive verb: I learn. And the ‘I’ that can learn is the student. The teacher can facilitate. The teacher lights the fire. The superintendent, the (local) board, the politicians, the state board here — we create environments, (and) some incentives. But we don’t want to micromanage. We want to give a wide latitude to teach and to explore and to light that fire in every student. And to the extent that teaching becomes a menu and a recipe, we lose that.”

Brown closed by asking the board to simultaneously embrace imagination and rigor.

“If you only have imagination, you have chaos and insanity,” he said. “If you only have rigor, you have paralytic death and rigor mortis. But if you combine rigor and imagination — if you combine flexibility with guidelines and some reasonable accountability — we’ll get the job done. So good luck. And I’m very excited. I’m bullish on California schools.”

Hours later, the board approved the emergency funding regulations, allowing the flexibility that many districts lobbied for, while trusting local officials to do the right thing for their students.

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