K-12 funding hinges on tax initiative

In a surprise move, Governor Brown discussed his proposed 2012-13 state budget with reporters today after the document was mistakenly posted on a state website. The budget, originally to be unveiled next Tuesday, includes deep cuts to safety net programs, further reductions in the state workforce and a number of functional consolidations aimed at increasing government efficiency. Public schools will fare better in 2012, providing that new revenues generated by proposed tax initiatives pass. There are, however, a few surprises in the budget for K-12 schools.

Transitional Kindergarten, slated to begin in September 2012 after passage of Senator Simitian’s bill, will be eliminated prior to implementation, allocating the $223 million to other education programs.Transitional Kindergarten is part of the new age cut-off for incoming kindergartners, raising the entry age to 5 by September 1st. Eliminating the program for the 3-year phase in leaves 125,000 4-year old children without a bridge year between preschool and kindergarten and eliminates 5,000 teachers’ jobs. It also means a revenue loss to many school districts for the students denied admission.

The Governor revisits his proposed funding reforms by making many temporary suspensions of categorical programs permanent and beginning a 5-year phase in of a new weighted funding model that ties funding to the costs of educating disadvantaged students. Among those now flexible programs are class size reduction and home to school transportation. Santa Cruz City Schools, with early support from the Santa Cruz Education Foundation, is one of the school districts still using Class Size Reduction subsidizing funds from the state to keep K-3 classes at as close to 20 students as possible. These funds are also used to cap 9th grade English and Math classes at 20 students – a strategy proven to support student success in high school. Determination for how those funds would be spent would fall to local elected officials, providing greater flexibility within school districts to accommodate their students’ particular needs. Local advocacy would help to ensure that the community’s priorities are upheld.

The proposed new funding model would tie student needs to weighted funding levels from the state, with additional money provided for students learning English, students living in poverty and to schools with high concentrations of both groups.

The elimination of redevelopment agencies provides additional funds, but the proposed budget also makes changes to the complex matrix of Proposition 98 formulas, maintenance factors (money owed to schools from previous adjustments) and deferrals, with a net upside of nearly $1 billion beginning in the 2012-13 school year. All of these factors are dependent on revenues flowing from one of the proposed tax increase initiatives (the Governor’s budget presumes his proposed initiative). Should the initiative fail, schools would be faced with a $4.8 billion reduction, the equivalent of nearly three weeks of instruction.

The proposed changes to K12 programs and funding have been excerpted here.