Budget leaves facilities crisis for another day

Budget leaves facilities crisis for another day

(Calif.) Despite signals that his administration was ready to undertake a sweeping change for how new schools are paid for and older ones updated, Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled Friday a far less substantial facilities program, pushing the larger policy debate off for another time.

Brown’s education budget, buoyed by billions of dollars in tax revenue tied to Wall Street profits, would increase K-14 spending by $7.8 billion over what was provided last year while directing millions of additional dollars to support career technical education, adult services and expenses tied to the Common Core State Standards.

Calling the 2015-16 spending plan “carefully balanced,” Brown once again is keeping a tight grip on state purse strings by proposing to put $2.8 billion into a new rainy day fund and paying off $2.2 billion in debts – including $1 billion owed to schools for funding deferrals made during the recession.

Brown also resisted calls to restore state support to health care and social service programs that were drastically reduced beginning in 2009.

“We saw the boom and bust and I’m trying to avoid that,” the governor said at a news conference Friday.

Brown’s education budget held few surprises given that most of the dollar increases were driven by the voter-approved, Proposition 98 funding guarantee. But because his office had convened a series of meetings in the fall over the growing facilities crisis, there was much anticipation over how the administration would reshape the school construction system.

Instead, Brown has proposed several modest policy changes:

  • Increase the borrowing caps on schools based on community property assessments.
  • Establish a single developer fee statewide with a cap placed somewhere near the mid-point of the existing fee schedule.
  • Give schools more flexibility in the use of maintenance money that is now restricted.

The administration also announced its intent to target future state facilities money to districts that need it the most – including communities with low property values and few borrowing options, as well as overcrowded schools.

Except for an increase of $274 million for the Emergency Repair Program – which would retire the state’s obligation under terms of the 2004 Williams lawsuit settlement – the governor’s budget would not add any new money to the state’s pools for construction projects despite the fact that they have nearly run dry.

Having criticizing the existing facilities system as “overly complex,” “cumbersome” and expensive,  expectations were that Brown would outline some significant new plan, especially after repeatedly opposing attempts to ask voters to approve a new statewide bond, the traditional method the Legislature has used to support school construction.

“Passing bonds is a very complicated process, it takes years, it’s more expensive,” Brown said in response to a reporter’s question about facility funding last week. “I think the locals can do it more efficiently and I think they’re in the best position to judge how to allocate priorities.”

Joe Dixon, assistant superintendent of facilities and governmental relations at Santa Ana Unified School District, said that the state still needs to play a role in facility funding.

“Having just a local solution to the problem is not going to solve the problem because it’s uneven and it’s unequal across the state,” said Dixon, who is also a member of the non-profit state organization Coalition for Adequate School Housing. “There are many districts that have bonding capacity but they don’t have the assessed valuation to even access that.”

“It’s a big state and it’s the state of California’s – as part of the Constitution – responsibility to provide education for the citizens,” he said.

“We’ve had a successful program, and now we don’t,” he added. “I don’t understand why it got shut down. Does it need to be tweaked? Yes. But you don’t shut it down – you keep it going and you tweak it.”

Three other proposals in the governor’s budget received a far better reception: $1.1 billion for Common Core implementation; $500 million to support adult education; and $250 million in new career technical education grants.

The one-time Common Core money would be given to districts without restrictions, but most schools face significant costs tied to the new content goals, including new instructional materials, training teachers and preparing for a new computer-based testing system.

The $500 million for adult education would be used for basic skills programs, classes in citizenship, English-as-a-second-language courses and services to adults with disabilities.

Career technical education used to receive $500 million each year as a separate categorical program but that money was absorbed into the Local Control Funding Formula in 2013. Brown wants to provide $250 million to CTE each of the next three years.

The grants would be contingent on districts providing a dollar-for-dollar match and districts would need to show evidence that their programs produce results.

Other education funding highlights from the budget:

  • $100 million in onetime Proposition 98 funding to support internet connectivity and infrastructure.
  • $10 million to help the Commission on Teacher Credentialing develop new preparation standards; improve data systems and to develop an administrator evaluation system.
  • $320.1 million for energy efficiency project grants under Proposition 39.
  • An increase of $59.5 million to support projected charter school growth.
  • An increase of $15.3 million to reflect a projected increase in special education enrollment.

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