LAO disputes governor’s prison realignment savings

LAO disputes governor’s prison realignment savings

(Calif.) An anti-truancy program for schools would be shorted about $25 million under Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office said this week.

The Brown administration says savings generated from a prison overcrowding program would run close to $30 million – with schools receiving a share of about $7 million.

The LAO, however, told a key legislative panel earlier this week that they believe the prison relief program would generate as much as $150 million in savings.

 “A much bigger question for this committee and I think for the legislature as a whole is upholding the public trust,” Brad Strong of Children Now testified Tuesday. “The public didn’t think that [the government] was going to take the savings and then not really give education any additional money, and when [that money] is programmed from within the existing Prop. 98 and not on top of it, we’ve provided no additional money from the savings.”

Proposition 47, also known as the Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act, lowered penalties for certain drug and property crimes to reduce the number of adults incarcerated by the state.

The measure, approved by voters, calls for the resulting savings to be distributed at 65 percent to the Board of State and Community Corrections for mental health and substance abuse programs; 25 percent to the Department of Education to support truancy and dropout prevention, and 10 percent to the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board for grants to trauma recovery centers.

The voter initiative was adopted in concert with legislation approved in 2011 that “realigned” prisoners convicted of non-violent or non-serious crimes to serve their terms in county jails rather than overcrowded state prisons.

The intent of school’s share of savings from prisoner reduction is to improve outcomes of K-12 students most at risk of dropping out of school or who are victims of crime. A stakeholder work group has been developing guidelines for the program and it is expected that legislation will be enacted to implement that framework, a representative of Brown’s Department of Finance said at the hearing.

“We continue to look at the savings factors and we could have a revised estimate of the savings at the May revise,” finance department spokeswoman Rebecca Hamilton said at a hearing Tuesday before the Assembly’s Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance.

Hamilton reported that Department of Finance estimates assume savings from a reduction in the state's adult inmate population, and higher costs due to a temporary increase in the parole population and trial court workload associated with resentencing. The estimate also takes into consideration the savings associated with fewer felony filings and more misdemeanor filings, and the number of offenders resentenced and released from the Department of State Hospitals.

But Natasha Collins of the LAO told lawmakers that her office believes the administration underestimates prison savings and overestimates court costs to the tune of about $100 million additional funds that should be attributed to Prop. 47.

The LAO also said the Legislature should allocate Proposition 47 funds to schools with the highest concentrations of at-risk students and then give those schools the flexibility to decide how to best address their dropout and truancy issues. This would be “consistent with the approach the state has taken in terms of providing flexibility to local districts to meet their students’ needs,” Collins told the budget subcommittee.

A related concern, education and civil rights advocates argue, is that the governor’s plan to include the $7.3 million as part of the already-allocated, constitutionally-guaranteed school budget rather than as extra funding is wrong and disingenuous to the intent of Prop. 47.

 “We do believe it has to be above and beyond what the Prop. 98 minimum guarantee should be,” said Martha Alvarez, speaking on behalf of the Association of California School Administrators.

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