Brownley’s ed finance reform bill withdrawn into a two-year measure

Following concerns raised by big urban school districts, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley has decided to pull back her school finance reform legislation from further consideration this summer.

Brownley's office confirmed Wednesday that AB 18 will become a two-year bill - meaning it will be withdrawn from active legislative debate with the intent of bringing it back next January.

Although the Democrat from Santa Monica could not be reached for comment, her staff said Brownley had anticipated making the move for some time given the magnitude of the changes contemplated in the bill and the number of stakeholders that wanted input.

The bill had been introduced earlier this year as a potentially ground-breaking effort to strip away unnecessary complexity and confusion in the state's system for funding schools.

AB 18 would have consolidated most of the state's 40-some categorical programs into three, simple grants - two of which would have been distributed based on average daily attendance and one that would have provided funding using a weighted formula based on the number of English learners and economically disadvantaged students a district might have.

While the intent was not to create a redistribution process in which some districts would be net winners and some net losers - concerns that the bill would in fact benefit rural and suburban districts at the expense of inner city schools.

There are a lot of things in the bill that we liked," said Edgar Zazueta, legislative advocate for the Los Angeles Unified School District. "We very much agree with the assemblywoman that the school funding system is overly convoluted and in need of revision.

"But there were concerns that the bill could result in a redistribution of money," he said, noting that his district took no formal position on the bill. "We just feel that further discussions are warranted."

Brownley, chair of the Assembly Education Committee, has made school fiscal reform a major goal of her legislative activity.

She said in an interview early this spring that her goal wasn't to materially change the total number of dollars that districts are getting now - but instead make far more of those dollars flexible and provide better transparency and accountability.

"The system we have now is very complex and irrational and as a result no one can really follow the money," said Brownley in a May interview. "I think that if we simplify the system we will gain transparency but I think we will also gain better accountability."

The bill had won passage out of the Assembly earlier this month, but appeared to run into problems before the Senate Education Committee, where it had been scheduled to be heard next week.

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