Governor's new budget contains welcome reforms to school funding 

Gov. Jerry Brown introduced his new state budget Thursday, and it contains a sweeping overhaul of how funding is allocated to California schools and how districts may spend certain funds. The changes, bound to cause a fight, are a welcome start to at least the conversation about education spending in the state.

People on both sides of the aisle likely will embrace several of the elements in Brown’s budget that affect educational spending. The budget allocates an additional $2.7 billion for elementary, secondary and community colleges next year. This increase would bring the total spending for K-12 and two-year colleges to roughly what it was before the recession led to deep cuts in state spending.

The governor also proposes using $1.8 billion of the new funds to pay school districts back for late payments the state withheld during the last few years. Overall, school districts and secondary-school systems across the state can apparently breathe a sigh of relief about avoiding future cuts on top of what already has been lopped off their budgets.

The good news for the schools is, of course, part of a larger budget improvement under Brown’s leadership. When the governor took office two years ago, California’s budget shortfall was $25 billion. After many austerity measures and convincing voters to temporarily increase sales tax and income tax for some in the state, Brown now has a budget that suggests that the hard work was worthwhile.

The state has about $5 billion more to spend, and Brown is right in prioritizing education.

But not all of Brown’s recommendations are likely to be well received.

The governor is proposing to give more funds to school districts with large populations of students who are English-language learners or who are low-income. Brown’s proposal continues to base state school funding on attendance, but districts could receive up to 35 percent more money due to the status of their students.

In addition, districts in which 50 percent or more of the students are low-income could receive special grant money.
These proposed shifts, would, on the surface, appear to steer funds disproportionally away from wealthier districts. But school funding is more complicated than that. Mechanisms in place now tend to favor suburban school districts over urban and rural ones.

Yet urban centers and rural areas tend to contain higher concentrations of low-income residents in the state.

Fleshing out details of what the new funding structure could mean for students will take some time, and it will be disappointing if state representatives from wealthier suburban areas oppose the idea simply because their schools would not receive the same funding boost as schools with more low-income students.

But they should take the long view: Increasing spending on such students now will save the state plenty of money in the future, by keeping low-income students in school and on the path to productive membership in society.

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