Stage set for budget fight over more K-12 money

Stage set for budget fight over more K-12 money

(Calif.) It’s not yet official, but school districts could be the beneficiaries of several billion more than what was proposed in Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised 2014-15 budget, released last month.

Still, a legislative conference committee, meeting for the first time Wednesday to reconcile spending differences between the two houses made few decisions on the K-12 proposals before them.

There does, however, appear to be growing consensus among Legislative leaders that more money should be used to support the new Local Control Funding Formula as well as Common Core implementation – how much remains in question.

Both houses also appear to be locked in on a far rosier revenue forecast than the one used by the Brown administration in preparing the revised May budget.

The Senate proposes adding $330 million in Prop. 98 funds to the administration’s plan to provide $4.5 billion for the Local Control Funding Formula. But the Senate would provide only $550,000 in one-time support for continued Common Core Implementation while the Assembly proposes $1.25 million.

Even if negotiations with the governor don’t produce meaningful gains for schools, lawmakers said next year will be a good one for schools.

“The good news is, that regardless of the scenario – whether we go with the administration’s revenue amounts or LAO’s – that our Prop. 98 funding levels will be from $4 billion to $6 billion more in this upcoming budget year than they were in the current budget year, and that is great news for our education system, for our kids and for the staff and teachers,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, co-chair of the conference committee.

“I think it’s more than fair to say that both houses have been very clear in prioritizing the importance of the state attending to California’s zero to 5 children through enhanced early care and education,” she added. “I think it’s clear that both houses are very, very committed to this issue of Career Technical Education in our high schools. There may be variation in approaches but again there’s very strong commitment in both houses.”

Brown’s revised May budget included a $3.1 billion increase over 2012-13 in the Proposition 98 guarantee for schools, for a total of $60.9 billion, up from $57.8 billion the year before.

But the governor allocated most of an unanticipated $2.4 billion in additional state revenue to other endeavors, including paying down the state’s multi-billion dollar wall of debt and creating a rainy day fund for lean times.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst has estimated revenues in the coming year will be far higher – as much as $2.2 billion, according to the LAO’s Edgar Cabral – giving lawmakers in both houses ambitions of their own for how those additional funds should be used.

One of Brown’s few added concessions to schools was to offer $26.7 million to help schools with infrastructure costs of high-speed Internet connectivity.

The Assembly would provide $384,000 to “reestablish as a categorical program outside the LCFF” Regional Occupational Centers and Programs that provide regionally-focused career technical education for high school students.

Neither Brown nor the Senate proposed additional funding for these endangered programs, although the supplemental money from the Senate in support of the LCFF would accelerate target funding for all districts and provide $150 million for career technical education to high schools. Another $29 million of that total would be used to equalize Home-to-School Transportation reimbursement costs for districts.

Both houses would allocate extra funding to the state’s childcare programs, something Brown chose not to do. The Senate proposes $712,995 to move the programs into Prop. 98, increase the standard reimbursement rate to providers by 7.5 percent and add an additional 51,500 preschool, general childcare and Alternative Payment slots for children. The Assembly plan would spend $439,500 to open an extra 47,000 childcare slots, increase the reimbursement rate by 10 percent, offer provider training and eliminate part-day state preschool fees and increase eligibility.

The Senate plan would fund the Career Pathways Trust Program, created last year with a one-time allocation of $250 million, by adding another $300 million. The funds are issued as grants to regional consortia of schools and industry partnering to offer rigorous academics and real-world career experience.

While Brown proposes paying $6 billion in funding deferrals owed to schools, he put no resources toward reducing the $4.5 billion in mandate claims owed to districts. The Senate would provide $448 million while the Assembly would offer $292 million for unpaid mandate claims.