Governor Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula is probably going to pass. The big question is whether its substance will have anything to do with its name, said former Santa Barbara politician and state school superintendent Jack O’Connell, who stopped by his old stomping grounds last week to brief area school district officials about the May Revision. O’Connell was here as a representative of Capitol Advisors Group, a Sacramento consulting firm staffed by former elected officials and bureaucrats, to explain the legislative machinations that go into setting California’s Byzantine education policy. According to O’Connell, Gov. Brown could barely remember that he had proposed funding reform a year ago, but at a recent meeting with school superintendents, he could explain his formula in great detail without notes, saying, “This will go through.”
Those who operate school districts are waiting with bated breath to see what Brown’s formula will look like after it gets sliced and diced by the Legislature. The premise is that districts will receive a “base grant” for each student equal to what they are entitled to this year. They will then receive an additional 35 percent of that amount for each English learner, low-income student, and foster youth (although foster children are already accounted for in the low-income number because they are eligible for free lunches).
While the governor made some modest revisions — including an extra $1 billion to fund the implementation of the new Common Core State Standards — the biggest changes in the May Revision focused on the accountability component of the formula, where the desire for schools to account for how their money is spent and offer evidence of their progress is turning into a convoluted flowchart calling for top-down input from the county superintendent that seems antithetical to the idea of local control. It sounds “kind of like NCLBish” said Capital Advisors partner Gerry Shelton, referring to the federal No Child Left Behind legislation.
Meanwhile the governor has underestimated current year revenue by between $2 billion and $3 billion (depending on who is calculating), because, according to Capitol Advisors Group, almost all extra cash must go directly to school districts to pay down deferrals — monies the state is obligated to give schools but has withheld to cope with the recession. “There is no new money,” said Meg Jetté, head of business services for the Santa Barbara district. “It’s money they owe to us.”
editor’s note: This reporter is married to a public school teacher.