Requests up, expectations low for extra school cash

Requests up, expectations low for extra school cash

(Calif.) For months, Gov. Jerry Brown’s fiscal managers have been warning everyone not to get their hopes up for new programs or services in his revised May budget expected out later this week.

The point became clear with news that personal tax collections in April – typically the state’s largest source of income – fell $1 billion short of projections the administration made only in January.

Although the dip came as a surprise to many around the Capitol, state coffers could still recover before the end of the fiscal year if June – now the second largest collection month – ends up being especially strong. Either way, not many expect the tight-fisted Brown to offer up many new spending ideas with release of the May revised.

“We’ve been told to lower our expectations,” said Teri Burns, legislative advocate for the California School Boards Association. “There’s just not any room for new spending.”

The April numbers are expected to be officially released today by the state controller but tracking provided by the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office showed that personal income taxes were down 2.8 percent last month instead of the administration’s forecast of an increase of 4.6 percent from last year.

Even if the numbers don’t recover, the Proposition 98 guarantee is expected to still be close to $70 billion – as much as 30 percent higher than during the depth of the recession.

If Brown decides not to take on any new spending programs, some thorny issues will remain.

One of the loudest drum-beats for more money has come from the after-school programs community, which says it needs $73 million more than Brown proposed in January in order to save programs that haven’t had even as much as a cost of living increase in over a decade.

The effort – led by the California After School Advocacy Alliance, a group of organizations that works to enhance accessibility to quality after school programs – has been focused on raising awareness about the need for increased funding to the state’s After School Education & Safety (ASES) program, which provides funding for services supporting more than 400,000 of California’s most vulnerable students.

ASES programs have operated within fixed funding levels for nearly a decade, while increases in the California Consumer Price Index (19 percent) and the state minimum wage (33 percent) have taken a toll on the sustainability of many programs. As a result, administrators and supporters of ASES programs say, nearly a third are at risk of having to cut staff and eliminate enrichment activities for children and could be forced to shut down by 2018 if the state doesn’t act now.

Many legislative requests this session deal with growing the existing teacher pool and improving job conditions in order to retain happy and qualified educators.

There are 20 some bills designed to address the teacher shortage, from providing student loan payoff programs and new teacher training to affordable housing as well as additional family leave and unemployment insurance benefits.

These proposals would require in the tens of millions of dollars to implement, according to estimates.

Questions have also arisen about the impact the new minimum wage increases will have on schools.

Brown’s Department of Finance has said that increasing the minimum wage to $15 will cost taxpayers $3.6 billion per year when fully implemented. Adjusting to increased labor costs for schools on a fixed budget is likely to impact jobs for bus drivers, groundskeepers, custodians, special education staff and after-school activities, they surmised. Finance staff also said underprivileged school districts will feel the impact of these adjustments far more than affluent districts.

School groups say the governor would be remiss if he didn’t account for at least some of these increased costs to schools in his new budget proposal.

Legislators still intent on putting some teeth into a new school performance and accountability system being developed by the State Board of Education are moving a bill that analysts say could run in the millions of dollars.

AB 2548 by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) would require the SBE to use data to support a variety of indicators that would be used to assess how well schools are educating students, including:

  • For elementary and middles schools, a measure of: pupil achievement in at least English language arts, mathematics, and science; academic growth; progress toward English proficiency; chronic absenteeism; school climate. 
  • For high schools, a measure of: pupil achievement in at least English language arts, mathematics, and science; graduation rates; progress toward English proficiency; college and career readiness; chronic absenteeism; and school climate. 
  • Requires substantial weight and, in aggregate, much greater weight, to be given to the measure of: pupil achievement in ELA, math and science; academic growth and progress towards English proficiency.

The bill would also require that, when it comes to identifying appropriate assistance for a school or LEA under the system, the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence and county superintendents of schools analyze data aligned with eight state priorities in the Local Control Funding Formula.

AB 2548 would require the creation of “a data and reporting system that provides meaningful and accessible information on school and school district performance that is displayed through an electronic platform. “Parents and the public must have the ability to easily access, compare, analyze, and summarize school reports, pupil performance results, and the progress made by schools and school districts in reaching all of the state’s priority areas for purposes of local control and accountability plans and the local control funding formula,” an analysis of the bill states. 

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