Senate school funding plan includes boost for linked learning
The Senate version of Gov. Jerry Brown's school finance restructuring proposal would require district and county administrators to hold public hearings and develop plans detailing how they will use additional state support to improve the performance of educationally disadvantaged students.
SB 69, released Thursday, leaves open key financial elements pending release of the governor's revised May budget that could be lifted by at least $3.5 billion in unexpected revenue.
Senate leaders also suggested a second front in the negotiations with Brown over schools and funding - calling for a visionary change in high school curriculum with linked-learning programs as a centerpiece.
Release of the bill comes just one day after Brown put on a fiery defense of his Local Control Funding Formula at a Capitol news conference in which he threatened tinkering lawmakers with the battle of their lives."
At a meeting with reporters Thursday morning, key Senators were careful not to inflame the rhetoric - but they were also clear about their intent to impose key changes to Brown's plan.
"We are open to getting it done in any form," said Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. "But we are most concerned about doing it right, making sure the money gets to the kids most in need."
After putting his restructuring plan on the back burner last summer, Brown reintroduced in January the proposal that he said is an effort to simplify the process and make it more equitable. As proposed he would pool virtually all state support to schools into three block grants - one that all districts receive and two others aimed at helping educationally disadvantaged students, especially English learners and those living in low-income neighborhoods.
Like last year, however, communities that would receive less over time under the plan have objected to the split. There have also been concerns from civil rights groups about ensuring the extra cash is spent on programs for those subgroups after local officials are granted greater spending authority.
SB 69 appears to strike a compromise by eliminating one of the block grants for disadvantaged students and using that money to raise the base, per-pupil rate that all districts receive, as well as enhance the supplemental grant for English learners, those who qualify for subsidized meals and foster children.
The bill includes additional accountability measures aimed at ensuring the extra funding promotes performance - including loss-of-spending-flexibility sanctions on districts that do not meet academic goals.
The Senate version would also take effect a year later than the governor's plan, in 2014-15 rather than this coming school year.
Senate Democrats have clearly embraced the position of Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angles, that changes of this magnitude cannot be negotiated as part of budget negotiations - something Brown is seeking.
"This shouldn't be rushed," said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, noting the Senate version has been drafted as a separate policy bill. "If we didn't have a policy bill, we would be on a very tight deadline to work all of this out.
"This is a policy that could be in place for one generation maybe two," he said. "Maybe we can make the June 15 deadline - but if we don't, we have a couple more months during the summer to focus on it after the budget is done."
SB 69 has intent language aimed at promoting linked learning by earmarking some funds for high schools for college and career readiness. There is also reference to the "possible maintenance of existing categorical and competitive grant programs" to support career tech education such as the partnership academies and linked learning programs.
Steinberg said that while the Senate Democrats support the governor's "grand finance vision," it needs to be "matched with an equally grand vision to change high school curriculum. We have been very clear on that."
Steinberg noted that almost the entire Senate went on a field trip earlier this year to campuses in Long Beach to witness in action successful linked learning programs - a broad designation of curriculum that combines high expectations in traditional academics with real-world job experience.
"We saw the power of merging academic rigor and career application across the board, called linked learning," said Steinberg. "We want to make sure that if we are going to be giving more money to schools, especially high schools, that there is an incentive or requirement that districts actually take the best models and not only maintain them but enhance them."
To read the current draft of the bill click on the link below: