Billions in extra revenue plays wildcard in looming fight over school funding

A strident Gov. Jerry Brown vigorously defended his sweeping school finance restructuring plan at a Capitol news conference, warning the Legislature's Democratic leaders they will face the battle of their lives" if they try to rewrite the plan.

The outburst came just one day after Senate leaders proposed some modest changes to Brown's Local Control Funding Formula but also as a growing number of statewide school groups have expressed skepticism about the proposal - largely driven by concerns that the governor's base per-pupil grant to be given all districts is too small.

Looming over the coming negotiations - but overlooked at Wednesday's event - is news that the state is likely to have an unanticipated $4 billion in revenue before the fiscal year is over.

"You've seen the scores. Why is California so much in the bottom? It's because we have so many poor kids and so many kids who don't speak English," the governor, flanked by a contingent of superintendents from north to south, told a room full of reporters. "I will fight any effort to dilute this bill, which is to restore equity and build on the future of California."

Brown's Local Control Funding Formula, centerpiece of his budget plan for education, is designed to feed more money to districts with high concentrations of disadvantaged students.

A rival plan is set for formal introduction today by Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. Although only parts of the bill have been shared publicly, a key difference between it and Brown's is that one of two block grants that would be provided to districts with high numbers of English learners and economically disadvantaged students would be eliminated. Those dollars would be used to increase the base funding that all districts receive as well as a remaining supplemental block grant for disadvantaged students.

The Senate proposal comes in response to growing opposition to the governor's plan - at least some of it from more affluent communities whose districts' budgets would not increase as much long-term under Brown's allocation.

"I will do everything I can to see that this bill passes the Legislature this year. The kids can't wait; California can't wait," Brown said Wednesday. "Almost 60 percent of the kids going to school in California are either poor - and by poor I mean the whole family makes less than 23,000 a year - or they speak a language other than English. We have no time to delay."

Still, Brown also said that he was not giving the Legislature an ultimatum. "We will work with people - but you've got to understand this has been designed to deal with the problem - and the problem is that we have millions of poor kids in California."

The elephant in the room, however, was a report from the non-partisan Legislative Analyst Tuesday of a robust April tax collection that could end up $4 billion above January projections. How all those additional dollars might be used to improve base funding, protect support for the disadvantaged and remove opposition is likely to be discussed at length in the coming weeks behind closed doors.

Brown did say, however, he is not inclined to be motivated by the Senate plan to increase the base per-pupil amount.

"It's real clear," he said. "The concentration factor is a relatively small amount of money. You spread it out to all the districts, it'll have a trivial effect. If you put it into the districts with high concentrations of poverty, it'll have a very powerful effect."

Democrats plan to outline details of their proposal today by releasing an amended SB 69, authored by many of the top Senate leaders, including President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, Sen. Carol Liu, chair of the Senate education committee, Sen. Mark Leno, chair of Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Marty Block, chair of Senate Budget Subcommittee on Education, and Sen. Ricardo Lara, chair of the Latino Caucus.

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