School board gets update on new school funding scheme

School board gets update on new school funding scheme

Michele Ellson

Alameda’s school board got a rundown Tuesday on what one trustee called the “brave new world” of school funding that school districts across California are entering as the state begins its rollout of a new school funding formula this year.

The new funding formula could mean more money for Alameda’s schools over the eight years it is rolled out, though it may also mean greater oversight of the way school districts spend the state money that makes up the bulk of most districts’ funding.

“Local control is an illusion, people,” said school board member Mike McMahon, referring to the title of the new funding program, local control funding formula.

For more than four decades, California has offered “revenue limit” funding that provides a per-student base grant to local school districts, along with “categorical” funding that pays for districts’ implementation of dozens of different programs. But starting this year, the state will offer a base grant for each student, with supplemental funding for districts educating a certain percentage of students who are low income, English learners and foster youth and additional funds for districts with high concentrations of those students.

When the program is fully rolled out in 2021, the district would be getting an estimated $77 million in state funding, plus money for a handful of categorical programs that will remain in place. This year the district anticipates getting about $60 million – $2.2 million more than the district would have received under the old formula; additional information about the district’s budget is due in December.

But those numbers are only projections that depend on continued economic growth or investment in schools to be realized, a school budget official said – something he said he doesn’t think is likely. Fiscal Services director Shariq Khan said he thinks the first two years of the program – this year and next – will be fully funded since it’s a signature program of Governor Jerry Brown’s, but after that, all bets are off.

“The governor is counting on 12 years of uninterrupted growth. That is not going to happen,” Khan said. He said the district should set aside funding this year for tough years it could face in the future, if state funding increases don’t arrive as advertised.

The temporary sales and income tax increases that fund Proposition 30 sunset in 2016 and 2018, while the district’s Measure A parcel tax – which adds $12 million a year to Alameda Unified’s revenue column – will lapse in 2017-18 if voters don’t choose to extend it. Those two funding streams account for nearly a quarter of the district’s revenue, Khan said.

Separately, the board okayed a budget for the roughly $8.5 million in Proposition 30 funds the district will receive this year. The money replaces $6 billion in annual state funding being paid to local governments that took on additional prisoners the state sent to address a federal court mandate; it will help fund teacher salaries and benefits.

The new state funding scheme also comes with new layers of accountability that include a three-year plan that must demonstrate how the state’s money is being used to advance the district’s efforts to boost student achievement, promote a healthy school climate, offer a broad course of study and other educational goals, and also how the district is engaging students and parents. It must also address ways the district is implementing the new Common Core standards, another big change school districts across California are facing this year.

The accountability plan will be scrutinized by a new parent advisory committee that must include parents and guardians of students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, English learners and foster youth, along with the district’s existing English learner advisory committee.

Information and applications for the parent advisory committee are available at the district office, school offices and online; they are due on December 13, and appointments will be made on December 20.

Board member Barbara Kahn said she thinks the committee will give parents an opportunity to voice their desires about where the district will go, which Steven Fong, the district’s director of teaching and learning, termed a fair assessment. But McMahon said the committee’s involvement will be deeper than that, saying they will provide written findings on the district’s accountability plan, among other things.

“This is a little bit more than just an advisory committee,” McMahon said.

Superintendent Kirsten Vital said it’s not totally clear what the committee’s role will be; guidelines from the state aren’t expected until January. And while the district has projections of what their funding from the state will be this year, they won’t know the actual amount until after the final school bell has rung, district officials said.

“I don’t think it’s clear to any district in California as to what expectations are going to be or what its going to look like,” Vital said.

Governor Jerry Brown pitched the funding plan as a way to both simplify state funding for schools and to distribute it more equitably, providing more funding to school districts with higher concentrations of students who are typically more expensive to educate. Districts have broader discretion for spending the funds, though the accountability plans they must draft – and win parent assent on – require districts to show they are spending the money in ways that align with the state’s educational goals.

A bipartisan panel appointed by Brown’s predecessor, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, had recommended fixes intended to equalize school funding, which varies widely from district to district. But the economy crashed in 2008, throwing the state’s budget into chaos and stalling those efforts.

A group of school districts and families that included Alameda Unified filed a lawsuit that asked a court to compel the state to fix the system, in 2010. A local judge tossed the case, but the group appealed. It’s not clear whether the new state funding scheme will impact the appeal, though an attorney for the state submitted a letter to the court about the restructuring, in August.