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Local districts eye funding

The proposed model would allot schools a base grant — a funding floor — that they would not fall bel

Posted: June 8, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 8, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

Santa Clarita Valley school officials and state representatives say they fundamentally support proposed changes to the way the state doles out education dollars, but the devil is in the details.

California Gov. Jerry Brown proposed sweeping changes to the state education funding model in January in an attempt to push more money to schools with high populations of impoverished students or those struggling with the English language. The goal was also to give more control to local school districts, the governor said.

“This really is a classic case of justice,” Brown said during a speech in January. “To unequals, we have to give more to approach equality.”

As it stands, the proposed model would allot schools a base grant — a funding floor that they would not fall below. On top of that, schools would receive additional money based on their populations of English-language-learning students and students under the poverty line.

While local district officials say they support the fundamental goals of the model, superintendents want it tweaked to make sure no districts lose funding as a result of the changes.

Winners and losers
The Saugus Union School District would be one of those districts that may be a loser under the new funding model, according to district Superintendent Joan Lucid.

“You’ve got to be able to take a look at fairness and equity,” Lucid said. “It (the model) will create haves and have-nots.”

Lucid said she supports the idea of giving more money to schools with needy students, but there needs to be additional oversight to make sure the money is going to those students.

“The devil is always in the details,” Lucid said.

Lucid did say Brown has pledged no district would receive less funding than it received this school year.

But moving forward, it would be better if the state simply restored to schools the funding that has been cut over the past several years, Lucid said.

Districts have seen an approximate 22 percent reduction in per-pupil state funding since 2007, according to officials.

Other facets
Newhall School District Superintendent Marc Winger said he supports the type of model Brown has proposed, but wants more money given to districts up front through base grants.

“Everyone is in favor of more base funding,” he said.

The Newhall district and the William S. Hart Union High School District joined with 33 other districts around the state to create the California School Finance Reform Coalition, which is pushing for an increase in the base grant to fully restore school funding to pre-Great Recession levels.

“We felt we needed to inject a voice into the debate,” Winger said.

According to the coalition, the local funding control formula would shortchange some districts around the state, giving them less money than if the state simply restored all the funding that has been cut since 2007.

Legislative option
Legislation that is currently in front of the state Assembly, Senate Bill 69, would tweak Brown’s formula somewhat to raise the amount of base funding given to districts and eliminate a third provision of Brown’s funding formula.

That third aspect of his proposal, dubbed a “concentration grant,” gives additional money to schools with a majority of students who are English-language-learners or under the poverty line. Winger said.

While this would benefit large, urban districts such as Los Angeles Unified School District and the Santa Ana School District, it provides no real benefit to districts in the Santa Clarita Valley, according to officials.

“We all agree that the local-control funding formula is a good idea, but what they did is say, ‘Let’s use the money to raise the base,’” Winger said of the legislators who sponsored the bill.

The bill has already cleared the state Senate is now in the hands of the Assembly.

While local Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, voted in favor of the changes, Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, did not.
Knight actually prefers Brown’s original model, saying it would cost the state less, wrote spokeswoman Sarah Tyndall in an email.

Both of Santa Clarita Valley’s Assemblymen said they need more time to work through the bill before they take a stance on it.

“SB 69 just came to the Assembly, and as it works its way through our vetting process, I’ll look at it in the same terms I look at any other education proposal — what is the best approach for all the schools in the 36th Assembly District,” said Assemblyman Steve Fox, D-Palmdale.

Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, said he supports the concept of SB 69 but wants to make sure adequate funding is available so every district comes out ahead.

“Even though conceptually I like the formula and the thought behind it, as of right now I’m neutral (on the bill),” Wilk said.

What’s ahead
SB 69 is currently in the state Assembly and will likely head to the Education Committee for a hearing, according to Wilk.

The final structure of the local control funding model may be set next week, when legislators meet to finalize a state budget.

 

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