Senate joins Assembly in backing mandates, rejecting May Revise

Following similar actions in the Assembly, a key Senate budget panel rejected proposals by Gov. Jerry Brown late last week to eliminate numerous mandated activities for K-12 schools and suspend federal funding for student data systems.

Consensus between the two houses would suggest that neither of the proposals will be adopted into next year's spending plan and instead will be referred to policy committees where the debate over each is expected to continue.

At the present time I'm going to recommend that we reject the governor's May Revise proposal," said Sen. Carol Liu, D-Pasadena, chair of the Senate Education Subcommittee, referring to the plan to suspend or eliminate a number of mandates. "Given the short time frame...we're working with leadership to address the policy concerns and we will continue to work with other members to gather input on this issue."

The Brown administration had proposed cutting $38 million from the mandates program by eliminating or reducing funding for various required activities. Following a proposal by the Legislative Analyst, Brown would like to ultimately transform the payment system into a block grant.

Administration officials said the mandate proposal rose out of a desire to return local control of mandates by allowing districts to choose which ones they wished to perform.

"That, in and of itself, is some measure of reform," said Thomas Todd, a spokesman for the governor's Department of Finance.

But opposition to that plan was widespread across the education community as well as among public health, law enforcement groups and civil rights advocates who each raised concerns about cutting or eliminating mandated activities without a careful and public review.

"These mandates that are slated for suspension or reduction have very critical services involving public transparency, pupil safety, pupil success, and many other things that would essentially be cut out of the school's activities in this year," explained Katie Valenzuela, spokeswoman for Public Advocates, a non-profit representing low-income families.

In other action, the Senate adopted a proposal by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst to continue funding for the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, but at a slightly lesser amount than was requested by officials at California Department of Education.

The governor had proposed withholding nearly $3 million in federal money from CalPADS while eliminating another $560,000 for the teacher data system.

Todd from the finance department said the administration wanted to reevaluate the state's role in data collection because those decisions had historically been dictated by the federal and state government and may be incongruent with the needs of school districts.

"This governor wants to ensure that local perspectives are brought to bear in this discussion. He fundamentally wants this data to be useful to local school districts, teachers, parents - everybody in the local communities," said Todd.

But the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst argued that elimination of CalPADS could jeopardize some Title I federal funds - a fact that the administration did not deny.

Lawmakers in the Senate approved the LAO's proposal to continue funding CalPADS at the 2010-11 level of funding.

Alternatively, lawmakers in the Assembly supported a counter proposal by the CDE to fund CalPADS at a slightly higher rate.

Because the two houses are not in agreement on a payment plan for CalPADS, the debate is expected to return in upcoming Senate and Assembly budget committees.

(Editor's Note: School Innovations & Advocacy, publisher of Cabinet Report, provides mandate claims support to school districts as part of its array of products and services.)