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Governor revs up state Board of Education during funding discussion

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.

Do you agree with Brown’s statements?

Posted on Friday, January 17th, 2014
Under: California Board of Education, Education, Gov. Jerry Brown | 15 Comments »

Local school districts look forward to more money in 2014-15

School officials around the state will be spending the next several days reading through Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed 2014-15 budget to see how it will directly affect them. For those that have a high percentage of low-income students and English learners, the new funding formula that gives them a greater share of the money is good news.

The West Contra Costa school district based in Richmond, along with the Oakland school district in Alameda County, are both looking forward to receiving additional funding expected to help them narrow the achievement gap.

Charles Ramsey, president of the West Contra Costa school board, said the money for low-income students and English language learners will make a big difference.

“There’s going to be a huge proportion of resources dedicated to assisting them,” he said. “It’s going to be a quantum change in funding for our district. We’re going to see a doubling of funding for those students over time.”

In the next couple of years, Ramsey said funding is expected to increase to $10,600 or $10,700 per student, with an additional $104 million total expected by 2021, after the funding formula is fully implemented.

The West Contra Costa school board has already decided to spend some of its new money on school resource officers, reducing class size in Transitional Kindergarten through third grade and creating “full service community schools” that include health centers. Ramsey said trustees are also considering allocating $1 million to $2 million more to athletics and setting aside additional funding for music and other programs that have been cut in the past.

“We want to be able to provide kids opportunities so they can learn,” he said. “We need to give more of our resources to the kids for the classroom. I give the governor a lot of credit to keep education at the forefront, because California has lagged.”

In addition, Ramsey said he would like to devote more funding to professional development to help teachers implement the new Common Core standards, along with the technology needed for testing. He was also pleased that the district has recently settled a contract agreement with teachers that included salary increases.

“We need to do more to really attract people to the industry and recruit and retain qualified teachers,” he said.

And Ramsey said the district is not shying away from its required accountability. The state Board of Education is fine-tuning guidelines that districts will be required to follow in developing plans for their spending.

“They want to see the kind of improvement we can have,” Ramsey said. “But, they’re not going to hold your feet to the fire right away. They’re going to give you a few years to show that it’s going to be successful.”

During the next month, the district is inviting community members to attend one of six meetings to get more information about state funding and discuss how it can be used to implement goals outlined in a recently-adopted strategic plan.

These meetings are: from 6:30-8 p.m. Jan. 15 at El Cerrito High; Jan. 16 at Ford Elementary; Jan. 21 at Pinole Middle School, Jan. 28 at DeJean Middle School, Jan. 30 at De Anza High, and Feb. 6 at Hercules Middle-High School.

Troy Flint, spokesman for the Oakland school district, said Thursday that he hadn’t had a chance yet to look at the governor’s budget in detail, but he pointed out that Oakland has been a strong supporter of the funding shift that gives more money to districts with disadvantaged students.

“Nothing’s perfect, particularly when you have to satisfy different constituencies in a diverse state,” he said. “This is a huge step forward for equity and for public education. This is the first time in many years, if ever, that funding has actually been aligned with student needs and that the value of equity has been placed front and center, with redistributed funds.”

Flint predicted that this approach would end up benefiting the state as a whole because struggling students will get the resources and help they need to succeed in college and the workforce.

“We’re very pleased with the direction the governor has taken,” he said. “We think this budget is going to produce great results for our kids and for kids around the state.”

Are you optimistic about the governor’s proposed 2014-15 budget?

Posted on Friday, January 10th, 2014
Under: California Board of Education, Education, Oakland school district, West Contra Costa school district | 30 Comments »

Adult Education programs are gearing up for new GED tests in 2014

An upcoming overhaul of the General Education Development test, or GED, is causing lots of debate locally and around the country due to major changes to the test, the way it is administered and who is overseeing it.

Starting Jan. 1, adults must take the high school equivalency tests on computers, instead of pencil and paper. The current five sections of the GED test, which include one language arts reading section and one language arts writing section, will be reduced to four (reasoning through language arts, mathematical reasoning, science and social studies).

The questions will be more complex, with short answers and essays intended to show greater understanding and critical analysis by test-takers in order to pass. Anyone who has not passed all five sections of the current test by the end of the year must start over in January.

Also, the GED Testing Service that oversees the tests is under new ownership, after a merger between the nonprofit American Council on Education that has always overseen it, with the for-profit Pearson learning company. The more stringent testing requirements, coupled with the new management structure, have placed additional burdens on adult education programs in California that are stressed from state budget negotiations.

In response to these concerns, the state Board of Education is considering changing its GED regulations to allow the California Department of Education to pursue an alternative high school equivalency test that could be taken using pencil and paper or computers. The board is accepting written comments through July 30 on an amendment that would change “a general educational development test” to “a test to obtain a high school equivalency certificate.” This change would clarify that the department would not be referencing the GED test.

Comments may be sent to the regulations coordinator via email: regcomments@cde.CA.gov, or by FAX to 916-319-0155. More information, including the mailing address, is available by calling 916-319-0800 or by visiting www.cde.ca.gov/be/ag/ag/yr13/agenda201307.asp. Click on Item 6 under the full board agenda public session for July 10, 2013.

The state board held a public hearing about the proposed changes in May and received 10 comments ranging from support to criticism.

Randy Trask, president of the GED Testing Service, objected to assertions made in a Feb. 20 memo from the state Department of Education to the board that said computer-based testing would decrease access, especially in rural and correctional settings, and that continued paper-based testing across the state was essential. Trask said the memo conspicuously omitted the benefits of the computer-based system or costs to test-takers.

In a phone interview, GED spokesman Armando Diaz said the computer change has many benefits.

“We’re not just providing a test,” he said. “We’re providing an entire system.”

It will include a pre-GED test as well as post-test information, including scores and suggestions for next steps, he said. Now, if someone doesn’t pass, they have no idea what they need to do to pass next time.

The new test will provide an in-depth score report, showing strengths and weaknesses, he said. Based on the passing score, the system may suggest additional coursework, he added.

“We want to bridge the gap between test-takers and middle skills jobs,” he said. “A lot of technology has been introduced to the manufacturing field, but a lot of adults are not familiar with technology, such as dragging a computer mouse around. I don’t think Target and Walmart even offer paper applications anymore.”

If the GED test did not move to computers, he said, test-takers could be at a disadvantage when they look for jobs.

More information about the new test is at www.gedtestingservice.com.

Do you think the state should pursue an alternative to the GED?

Posted on Monday, July 29th, 2013
Under: California Board of Education, California Department of Education, Education | No Comments »

MDUSD State Board of Education waiver request raises questions about current laws regarding charter conversion funding

The financial impact of Clayton Valley High’s charter conversion on the Mt. Diablo Unified School District has become a test case for the California State Board of Education.

With a never-before-tried waiver request, Superintendent Steven Lawrence and supporters asked California trustees Wednesday to cover $1.7 million in costs the district must pay to the charter, which are above and beyond revenues Mt. Diablo expects to receive from the state for Clayton Valley students. Lawrence argued that current law unfairly penalizes low-wealth unified districts such as Mt. Diablo by requiring them to pay high school charter conversions a higher per student rate than the district receives for the rest of its students.

The district receives about $5,208 per student, but would have to pay Clayton Valley about $6,187 per student. This means Clayton Valley would get nearly $980 more for each of its approximately 1,776 students than other district students, Lawrence said.

“This is a critical issue for our district,” he said. “Currently, our district is deficit-spending $9 million a year. This will push us closer to being bankrupt.”

California Department of Education staff recommended denying the waiver request, saying it would substantially increase state costs and would have the same effect as changing statutes that govern district revenues, which cannot be waived. If the board were to grant the waiver, it could set a precedent that might prompt 13 other unified districts that are paying additional costs for conversion charters to ask for similar relief, which could cost $8.4 million a year for all 14 districts, Department of Education staff said.

State trustees appeared to agree that the current system is unfair, but they disagreed about whether they have the authority to do anything about it.

“I reviewed this with a great deal of interest and concern,” said Trustee Patricia Rucker. “They’re not overstating their financial risk.”

However, she agreed with staff that the revenue apportionments did not appear to be waivable. She said the board was up against the wall and had two choices.

“You can choose to be brave and make a precedential decision and approve the waiver request,” she said. “Or, we can be a Debbie Downer and deny the waiver, knowing we’re creating a great problem for the district and great joy for the charter, which would be better-funded than other schools in the district.”

Board President Michael Kirst said the Legislature should fix the problem. Approving the waiver, he said, would force the state to pay the extra cost and the board doesn’t have authority to apportion money.

Rucker agreed that the Legislature should change the current law.

“Whether we approve this waiver at all, the district is still going to be in the position to rob Peter to pay Paul,” she said. “These are the unkindest of cuts.”

Richard Zeiger, Chief Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, said the district’s analysis was correct, but his staff didn’t see any legal way to remedy the problem.

“This is one of those unfortunate circumstances where the person coming in is right,” he said. “But, we can’t help them. So, this really hurt us too.”

Trustees voted 4-2 to deny the waiver, but Kirst said there were not enough votes in favor of the motion to sustain it, so the waiver will come back for a second vote in July. If a motion to deny fails to get enough votes at that time, the waiver would automatically be approved for one year, according to board policy.

Lawrence said AB 1811 proposed by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, could help alleviate the current inequity. Bonilla’s bill — which is set to go into effect in 2013-14, if approved — would require a charter conversion high school in a unified district to receive essentially the same allocation it received per student in the previous year, adjusted annually for inflation and state funding increases or decreases.

But the bill exempts charter conversions established between Jan. 1, 2010 and Dec. 13, 2012, including Clayton Valley Charter High, which will open in the fall under supervision by the Contra Costa County Office of Education. Instead, the bill says it would not preclude a charter school established during that time to agree to an alternative funding formula with the district.

Do you think the state board should approve the district’s waiver?

Posted on Friday, May 11th, 2012
Under: California Board of Education, Clayton, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 85 Comments »