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Gov. Brown's New Funding Plan Means Big Changes For LAUSD

Brianna Sacks |
April 2, 2013 | 6:04 p.m. PDT


If Governor Jerry Brown’s new education finance reform initiative is passed, Los Angeles Unified could get hundreds more dollars per student a year, but some education advocates worry the finance proposal could have a harmful impact on many programs serving thousands of students outside the k-12 realm, like adult education.

Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula, proposed as part of the 2013-14 budget, calls for deregulating spending restrictions on money previously reserved for programs like adult education and career-technical education programs. The plan also does not put more money into preschools and early childhood education programs, which have endured severe cutbacks over the past five years.

"Our future depends not on across-the-board funding, but in disproportionately funding those schools that have disproportionate challenges," he said as he unveiled his plan in January.

California ranks almost last ( 49th) in the nation in per pupil spending, and the Governor vows that this plan will move the state's base funding amount, which ranks 30 percent below the national average, up thousands of dollars every year.

The plan promises more transparency, control and accountability to schools at the local level, meaning parents, teachers and community members have a greater say on how they spend a school’s money. Schools could choose to eliminate dozens of state requirements for specific programs and allocate more money to programs, like English learning classes, with no strings attached. 

Programs At Risk

While Supt. Torlakson “applauds the Governor’s vision to redesign our school funding system,” he is concerned about the formula’s plan to shift responsibility for adult education programs from the K-12 system to community colleges.

View Complete List of All Programs Affected

“I do not think it would be an effective move to move adult education to the community colleges. They have a different mission,” Torlakson said.

The Local Control Funding Formula would shift adult education programs into community colleges to give k-12 public schools further funding flexibility, a move that has garnered intense opposition and scrutiny from assembly members and residents alike.

Mike Wada, the past president of the California Council for Adult Education, also said that adult education programs could be negatively impacted if moved out of the k-12 system.

“It defies all logic to make community colleges responsible for these students when 70 percent of those who participate in adult Ed programs do it in a public school district.”

There were 100,000 adult education students just in Los Angeles alone last year, and Wada says if the city’s community colleges tried to absorb these students, the result could be disastrous.

“They [community colleges] don’t have the infrastructure to absorb that,” he said. “There would not be enough rooms or qualified teachers. It’s too simplistic of a notion.”

There is also a petition to stop Gov. Brown’s plan to shift adult education from k-12 public school districts.

Wada also explained that if districts thought their adult education programs were being transferred, they would dismantle those programs completely and keep the funds for k-12 programs.

Additionally, community college adult education programs have leaner offerings for adult students in need of remedial education, as most adult students never finished high school.

“They are two different programs entirely,” said Wada. “Adult education is a different population that is being served.”

Other education experts expressed concerns on an assembly budget panel about early childhood education, which would get no new funding, and the potential loss of career-technical education and foster youth programs, since funds currently set aside for those programs would be lumped together in a pot of money that could be used for any educational purpose.

Deregulating funding focuses on what the student really needs, and enables educators to better meet those needs, explained State Board of Education President Michael Kirst in a Q&A with New America Media.

But the heart of the new funding plan lies in its guarantee to give needier school districts more money, essentially making race and class the core of its finance reform.

Brown’s new plan states school districts will receive a base grant, with an additional 35% for each student who is low-income, learning English or in foster care. If these students make up at least half of the district’s total pupil population, the state would add an additional 35% grant for each of them, explained H.D. Palmer, the deputy director for the California Department of Finance.

“The majority of our students need additional resources and support to level the playing field and the Governor's proposal will do just that,” said L.A. Unified School Board member Nury Martinez. “I applaud his insight and courage."

But not all state educators support the plan’s promise give schools with low-income students and English learners more money over the next seven years.

A new USC Dornsife/L.A. Times statewide poll about the finance proposal found that 39 percent opposed the idea of having “some money diverted from middle and upper class children to low income children and English language learners, ” reported the L.A. Times.

"Though no school or student in the state would receive less funding than they had before," said Palmer.

But some politicians still say the Governor's formula “disproportionately negatively impacts suburban school districts," according to Assembly member Muratsuchi (D-Torrance).

Muratsuchi says some districts in represented cities “lose out” disproportionately compared to districts like L.A. Unified.

“Torrance Unified School District would receive on average $2,500 less per student than Los Angeles Unified School District,” he said.

Dave Kanevsky, a pollster for American Viewpoint, told the L.A. Times that the governor's plan is "class warfare applied to schools" because it is framed "in terms of taking from one and giving to another."

Local Funding Formula’s Impact on LAUSD

However, the majority of voters agree that the state’s struggling school districts, like Los Angeles, need as much help as they can get.

More than 70 percent of L.A. Unified’s 600,000 students qualify as low-income, and about 180,000 students are learning English as a second language.

These statistics make L.A. Unified the perfect candidate for the Local Control Funding Formula,  since the district is currently facing close to $3 billion in deficits since the 2008 budget cuts, forcing schools to tighten their belts and make due with incredibly lean budgets and almost no new resources for the past five years. 

If passed, L.A. Unified would receive about $500 more per student a year, which would bring the district’s slim per pupil budget $7,509 to close to $12,000 over a seven year period, said Palmer.

So a school like Los Angeles Leadership Academy, which has almost 100 percent of students on the free lunch program, would receive $5,341 more dollars after the funding formula is fully in place, according to the Department of Finance.

On the other end of the spectrum, a school like Canyon Elementary, where only 3 percent of students qualify as low-income, would still receive close to $2,000 more at the end of the seven years because of it is still a L.A. Unified school.

“It’s really gratifying that Brown is recognizing that there are extra challenges when working with students in low-income communities who need more help,” said David Lydell of United Teachers of Los Angeles.

Not only is governor Brown recognizing the extra challenges, his plan may give 60 percent of the Categorical Grant funding to L.A. Unified alone, according to the latest SIA Cabinet Report.

Lydell’s union represents more than 34,000 teachers, counselors and nurses, most of which work with students who are learning English, live in struggling communities and go to deteriorating schools.

“We are severely underfunded and at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to student funding,” said Lydell.

L.A. Unified has had to make due with an unimaginably tight budget, and has already laid off 11,713 teachers and staff over the past few years.

If the Legislature passes Brown’s finance reform July1, L.A. Unified schools will have more power to create a better learning experience for thousands of struggling students.

“Hopefully this plan would provide more educational services and essential services to kids, like counselors,” he said.



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