Brown’s budget happily stays the course for schools

Brown’s budget happily stays the course for schools

(Calif.) With release of his 2016-17 budget proposal Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown gave schools a break on any new, major policy changes. Instead the governor offered up a steady, but welcomed, increase in spending that takes per pupil support to more than 30 percent above what it was at the nadir of the recession.

As expected, the Proposition 98 guarantee for next year will reach $71.6 billion and when combined with an additional $257 million in settle-up money due since the current budget was signed, schools and community colleges will see close to $5.4 billion in additional support.

Even with all the good news, however, Brown stayed in character warning against taking on any new major programs ahead of the economic uncertainties the lie ahead.

“This budget reflects, really, where we are and the kind of world we live in,” said Brown during a news conference at the Capitol. “Most every program you’re going to hear about in the next nine months will be good, because we’re healthy. But we also want to look at what’s the capacity of the state and what’s the willingness of the taxpayers to pay more.”

The governor noted that when he took office in 2011, the state faced a shortfall of more than $26 billion. Since then, however, thanks largely to the passage of a tax hike and a rebounding economy, California coffers are in good shape with a substantial portion of the so-called “wall of debt” already paid off.

Brown continues to be wary of economic head winds and cautioned legislative leaders that an internal evaluation by his Department of Finance suggests that an “average magnitude” recession could occur as soon as 2017-18.

“But everybody thinks when we’re up, it’s all wonderful,” said Brown. “That’s what they thought before the dot com, and that’s what they thought before the mortgage meltdown – so there it is. That’s where we are; what more can I say.”

Brown’s budget includes a total shift of $3.7 billion into the state’s rainy day fund, which includes an additional $2 billion as a result of new requirements imposed by a 2014 voter-approved savings plan.

The governor’s caution – consistent with how he’s managed the state’s money since taking office for the second time in his long political career – doesn’t mean that K-12 schools won’t continue to receive a healthy share of revenue.

Total per-pupil spending from all sources in 2016-17 will reach $14,550 – up from the $14,184 schools received this year.

Full funding of the Local Control Funding Formula also takes a big step forward in its fourth year with a $2.8 billion investment. The administration said with next year’s allocation, the state LCFF will be at 95 percent of full funding.

Although Brown has been careful not to take on any new programs, he has proposed a $1.6 billion early learning block grant. As envisioned, the money would be distributed like the LCFF – based on both population and needs – and local school officials would be given a lot of discretion over how to use the money.

The governor also plans to earmark $1.2 billion of the Proposition 98 guarantee to pay off most of the backlog in mandate claims that are still pending from previous years.

One major question coming into the budget discussion this year was how Brown would deal with the growing needs of school facilities – repairs, remodels and expansions. School groups, builders and related supporters have qualified a statewide, $9 billion bond measure for the ballot in November.

Brown appears opposed, noting that the proposal makes no changes to what he called an “overly complex” and “costly” system while adding $500 million a year in debt service to the state.

He did, however, say he would continue to talk with lawmakers and school representatives about the issue.

Other highlights:

  • An increase of $1.7 million to support a cost of living adjustment for county offices of education.
  • An increase of $61 million to cover expected growth in charter school enrollment as well as $20 million more for charter startups.
  • Brown would provide $30 million for “Systems of Learning and Behavioral Supports” to provide academic and related services in a coordinated and systematic way. These systems emphasize learning environments and teaching strategies that adapt to the students being served. Research indicates that these systems: (1) improve student outcomes by more effectively recognizing the various ways that students can learn, engage with and demonstrate mastery of academic content; (2) improve course access by promoting behavioral interventions that reduce student referrals to special education or other isolated settings; and (3) improve school climate by focusing on social and emotional learning.
  • An increase of $22.9 million Proposition 98 General Fund to support a 0.47 percent cost of living adjustment for categorical programs that remain outside of the Local Control Funding Formula, including Special Education, Child Nutrition, Foster Youth, Preschool, American Indian Education Centers and the American Indian Early Childhood Education Program.

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