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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 »

Will Middle Class Scholarship benefit your family?

Higher education reporter Katy Murphy and I are working on a story about the new Middle Class Scholarship recently signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. We would like to speak with families that might benefit from this.

If you are willing to be interviewed for this story, please call me at 925-945-4764 or Murphy at 510-208-6424. You can also reach me by email at or Murphy at

Here is more information about the scholarship from an excerpted news release sent out by Assemblyman John Perez, D-Los Angeles, who drafted the legislation:

“…In June, Speaker Pérez authored Assembly Joint Resolution 20, calling on Congress to prevent the student loan interest rates from doubling. It passed with overwhelming bipartisan support from the Assembly and state Senate.

The Middle Class Scholarship will cut tuition at UC and CSUs by 40 percent for California families making under $100,000 a year and 10 percent for families making under $150,000.

California universities have seen historically high fee hikes over the past 10 years with tuition rates increasing by over 190 percent at UCs and by about 145 percent at CSUs. Students at UCs and CSUs currently pay an annual tuition of $12,192 and $5,472 respectively. This legislation will dramatically lower the college fees to $7,315 at UCs and $3,283 at CSUs beginning in the 2014-15 school year for families making under $100,000 a year.

The state will increase spending on the Middle Class Scholarship each year until it is fully implemented in 2017-18, and it will be paid for through General Fund revenues.

Working with students and families from around the state, Speaker Pérez authored legislation last year to close a loophole that only benefitted out-of-state corporations and fund the Middle Class Scholarship. The Assembly passed that legislation on a bipartisan basis, but the bill died in the State Senate.

This year, the Middle Class Scholarship, Assembly Bill 94, received overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate and the Assembly.

‘This is a great victory for higher education and middle class families in California, and a huge first step in keeping college affordable,’ Speaker Pérez said. ‘For the past 10 years, the middle class has been increasingly squeezed out of our public universities because of skyrocketing tuition rates, forcing students to drop out of college or take on massive student debt that will negatively impact them for years, possibly decades. This legislation will ensure that California maintains a healthy middle class and an educated work force to keep our economy strong.'”

It is my understanding that this would not be available to families with incomes of less than $80,000 because they are eligible for Cal Grants.

Do you agree with Perez and the governor that this is good for California?

Posted on Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013
Under: Education, Gov. Jerry Brown | 7 Comments »

New survey gives hope to supporters of governor’s school funding plan

Gov. Jerry Brown has thrown down a gauntlet to California legislators, challenging them to dramatically change the way schools are funded — by giving more new money to districts with a high percentage of low-income and English learners than to other districts.

He also wants to give more flexibility to all districts by allowing local school boards to make most decisions about how they spend state funding. This means money previously designated for specific students or programs could come with no strings attached.

A Public Policy Institute of California poll released earlier this week showed a majority of those surveyed back the governor’s proposal, which is called the Local Control Funding Formula. This has bolstered the hopes of supporters of the plan, who fear critics could sway legislators to back away from making bold changes to the education budget.

“There are some in the capitol that are saying we need to make all districts whole before we pursue a policy goal of making a more equitable finance system,” said Jonathan Kaplan, senior policy analyst for the California Budget Project. “The way I read the findings is that there’s some dissonance between these findings and that perspective.”

Some districts are arguing that before any extra money is doled out to those with needier students, funding for all of them should be raised back to the levels they received before the state started making deep cuts to the education budget several years ago. The poll showed that 59 percent of Californians think the state needs to spend more money on education overall and that 71 percent support the governor’s plan to direct more funding to low-income students and those who don’t speak English fluently.

Significantly, 66 percent said districts with low-income students should get additional funding, even if it means giving less to others. Fifty-four percent said districts with more English learners should get additional funds, even if others get less.

Arun Ramanathan, executive director of the children’s advocacy organization Education Trust-West, said he was surprised, but pleased by these findings.

“It gives me great faith in California and Californians that they’re focused on equity and also focused on the notion that it’s going to take making tough choices,” he said. “Looking at the Legislature’s approval ratings, it would be quite interesting if they went and opposed something that was so clearly popular with California voters.”

The Legislature’s approval rating, as well as its approval rating for how it is handling K-12 education, was 31 percent, according to the survey. Fifty-three percent disapproved of the Legislature overall and half of those surveyed disapproved of the Legislature’s handling of K-12 education.

But Kaplan cautioned that the poll presents state results, which might not reflect the views of voters in some areas.

“They’re reflecting statewide attitudes,” he said. “The elected officials who are debating this proposal are in very particular, distinct geographical areas of the state, so we don’t know what this polling data would look like if it were in a specific Legislative district. The question will be where specific representatives will stand.”

Still, the poll did release some data that narrowed down who supported giving new education funding mostly to districts with more English learners and low-income students. Here’s a rundown of those findings:
– 71 percent of all adults favor (21 percent oppose)
– 60 percent of likely voters favor (31 percent oppose)
– 72 percent of public school parents favor (23 percent oppose)
– 80 percent of Democrats favor (15 percent oppose)
– 45 percent of Republicans favor (42 percent oppose)
– 62 percent of Independents favor (30 percent oppose)
– 73 percent of Asians favor (17 percent oppose)
– 79 percent of Blacks favor (21 percent oppose)
– 88 percent of Latinos favor (8 percent oppose)
– 59 percent of Whites favor (32 percent oppose)
– 83 percent of those with incomes under $40,000 favor (11 percent oppose)
– 68 percent of those with incomes of $40,000-$80,000 favor (25 percent oppose)
– 58 percent of those with incomes of $80,000 or more favor (34 percent oppose)

It also showed what voters from different geographic thought about shifting control over spending to local districts. In the Bay Area, 34 percent of those surveyed said local schools should have the most control over spending, compared to 36 percent statewide. Forty-seven percent of Bay Area respondents said local districts should have more control, compared to 43 percent statewide. And 18 percent said the state should have the most control over spending, compared to 16 percent statewide.

Bay Area voters nearly mirrored statewide results related to giving more flexibility in spending to districts. Seventy-eight percent of Californians and Bay Area residents said districts should get more flexibility, while 17 percent of Californians and 15 percent of Bay Area residents opposed this idea.

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, who heads up the Assembly Education Budget Subcommittee, said she thinks the Legislature could find a way to provide more funding to all districts, while also giving more to those with the neediest students.

“I don’t feel that raising the base rate for all students and meeting the needs of those with huge disparities are mutually exclusive goals,” she said. “I think that we can find a compromise where we can increase the base rate for every student and also put extra money toward our neediest schools and neediest students. What we’re really looking at right now is: Can we build a compromise within the governor’s proposal that would not have undue negative consequences for any particular group of students?”

Here’s a breakdown of more of the survey results:

Do you support the governor’s proposal?

Posted on Thursday, April 25th, 2013
Under: Education, Gov. Jerry Brown, Local Control Funding Formula | 3 Comments »

Do you agree with governor’s veto of bill that would have expanded school accountability system?

A Contra Costa Times editorial today highlights the fickle nature of Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent decisions to sign or veto a number of bills passed by the Legislature:

Here are some excepts related to children, libraries and education:

“Predictability and consistency are traits not often associated with Gov. Jerry Brown, as was once again demonstrated by his choice of which of hundreds of bills to sign or veto at the end of the past legislative session….

“The governor also vetoed another favorite union measure, Assembly Bill 101, which would have allowed at-home child-care workers to organize unions, thereby boosting the cost of child care during a weak economy….

“Brown also signed Assembly Bill 348, which makes it all but impossible for public libraries to contract out for services. As a result, some libraries will be forced to reduce hours or even close branches.

Brown surprisingly vetoed a progressive bill that would have reformed the way high school performance is measured. It would have broadened the methods beyond test scores to include graduation rates and student preparation for college and jobs.

The governor exhibited his inconsistency in vetoing a bill that would have required helmets for young skiers and snowboarders, citing concerns about transferring authority from parents to the state.

Yet he signed legislation to let children 12 and older seek medical care to prevent sexually transmitted infections without parental consent. Then he signed a bill banning minors from using tanning salons.

Brown indicated he would wield his veto aggressively but vetoed about the average percentage of bills previous governors vetoed, even though he complained about the huge number of unnecessary measures.

What the governor will do in the next session of the Legislature is anyone’s guess, but no one should expect consistency to emerge.”

Earlier this week, the Times printed an op ed piece from a reader who praised the governor’s veto of the school accountability bill referenced above:

Patrick Mattimore, who taught at public and parochial high schools in the Bay Area for 13 years, now teaches American law courses at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. Here’s what he had to say:

“From the community
By Patrick Mattimore
Contra Costa Times
© Copyright 2011, Bay Area News Group

Gov. Jerry Brown was right to veto SB547, a bill that would have distracted Californians from the test results of students and the corresponding Academic Performance Index of the states’ schools.

Based upon each school’s student test scores, the API informs parents how well schools are performing within the state and relative to schools with similar demographics.

The proposed multiple accountability measure would have added other evaluative factors to the API test scores, such as how well schools are preparing students for college and a school’s dropout rates.

The law, championed by many of the states’ newspapers (‘Mercury News editorial: SB 547 would significantly improve California’s school accountability system,’, would have diluted school accountability, replacing objective evidence of student achievement with vague subjective judgments about college preparation and, in the elementary grades, measurements of a school’s creativity.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with schools providing additional evidence to parents as to what the schools are doing, but those reports should be separate from a school’s API.

The API should not metastasize into an amorphous number that will cloud the student testing picture.

If our tests didn’t give us the information we needed to judge how well our students are learning, then we would be justified in expanding accountability measures. But that isn’t what’s happening. The sad fact is that our kids are not doing well on the tests and schools deflect responsibility by blaming the tests.

The anti-testing folks throw out language such as ‘drill and kill’ and ‘teaching to the test,’ to blunt efforts to make public schools accountable. In fact, ‘drilling’ is nothing more than practicing. Drilling is about instilling and reinforcing important information.

As to teachers ‘teaching to the test,’ that’s what they should be doing. Students are in class to learn.

Presumably, they should know certain discrete things when they finish a class lesson, an academic year and eventually graduate. The best way to facilitate that is for students and teachers to have clear expectations, goals and measurements. The best way to check whether students are meeting the goals is to test them.

It’s convenient to think students will learn without being ‘pushed’ by tests. It’s also wrong. Most of us get things done when we know we have to get things done. Tests are both a means of prodding us to work and the best way to check how well we have done our work.

While Gov. Brown made the right decision regarding SB547, he did it for the wrong reasons. In his remarks, the governor expressed his disdain for tests and data. He suggested we need a more holistic approach to assessment that would take account of students’ ‘love of learning,’ for example. Give educators divining rods and magic sorting hats and they can apparently evaluate students without tests.

Californians should reject those vague evaluation schemes and continue to insist that schools be measured with the easy-to-understand objective API.”

Yet, some people with whom I’ve spoken have said the bill could have paved the way for California to apply for a No Child Left Behind waiver, by showing a willingness in the state to expand accountability measures.

Do you agree with the governor’s decision to veto SB547?

Posted on Sunday, October 16th, 2011
Under: Education, Gov. Jerry Brown | 6 Comments »