School leaders to press: May Revise no windfall for schools

In the wake of too many headlines in the mainstream press last week inaccurately reporting schools were poised to receive a windfall of additional money next year - statewide education leaders took time Wednesday to clear up two potential misunderstandings.

First that the $3 billion increase for K-14 included in the governor's revised May budget only eliminates the need for a big apportionment deferral proposed in January and even then, school funding would be flat this year to next, members of the Education Coalition said at a Sacramento news conference.

Second, the good news" flat scenario funding is also, of course, contingent on first the Legislature and later the voters approving the governor's tax package.

"The total amount of Proposition 98 funding available to schools is the same in May as it was in January," said Rick Pratt, assistant executive director over governmental affairs at the California School Boards Association. "But the miss between actual cash or deferrals or (state) borrowing from next year is what is different.

"So the $3 billion is actually reducing the deferrals on K-12 and community colleges," Pratt said. "It is wrong to conclude that the additional $3 billion translates into that much of additional spending for schools."

Bob Wells, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, called the May plan a good first step in reducing the size of deferrals.

"But as the governor has pointed out, if the revenues are not extended, we will be in deep trouble," he said. "Even if they make it to the ballot, voters need to approve them because if we get through the 2011-12 year, the state still faces a very big structural deficit in 2012-13."

The event, which included representatives from the CSBA and ASCA as well as the state PTA and the California Teachers Association, came as budget hearings inside the Capitol began the careful process of evaluating key parts of the budget plan released last week by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Behind the scenes, negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders appear to be picking up although it remains unclear how close Brown is getting to securing the four Republican votes he needs to pass his budget.

A key point in the Education Coalition press event was a graph representing the Proposition 98 funding guarantee over the past five years. The issue, said coalition members, is that in 2007-08 schools received $56.6 billion in Prop. 98 money, but since the onset of the recession, that level has never been reached again.

It hit a recent low of $49.1 billion in 2008-09; grew slightly last year to $49.9 billion and held almost flat this year at $49.8 billion.

If the revised May budget is approved, the guarantee would again rise to $52.4 in 2011-12 - but nearly $7 billion of that are deferred payments.

School representatives are also clear about the need for the Legislature to adopt tax extensions that would run for a full fiscal year before putting ratification before voters. This runs counter to Gov. Brown's plan to have lawmakers adopt short term tax extensions and have voters consider the package in the fall.

Pratt noted that schools are preparing their budgets today for next year and as long as there is uncertainty about how much state support districts will receive, local officials will tend to be conservative with their planning.

That is, the governor's plan - even if carried out, would likely result in many districts adopting deep spending cuts for next year.

"In terms of how districts actually budget, it probably wouldn't look any different from a basic, all-cuts budget," he said. more