As school officials around Orange County try to figure out the local effects of Gov. Brown’s proposal to redistribute school funding, one superintendent has a pretty good idea how it would play out.
Marc Ecker, chief of the Fountain Valley School District, has been working with a small group of superintendents to advise the governor on the plan, which would be phased in over seven years and seeks to help the disadvantaged.
“We are attempting to close the achievement gap and move toward more equitable funding,” Ecker said of the plan, which also attempts to simplify matters.
Currently, schools are allotted a certain amount per student based on the number of days in school. On top of that, schools receive “categorical” funding which can only be spent in very specific ways. Gov. Brown, Ecker said, is looking to free districts from those restrictions while funneling additional money – 35 percent more than the base amount – to districts where 50 percent or more of the students are English learners or from low-income families.
So the plan, known as weighted student funding but dubbed "the local control funding formula" by Brown, is a “flat rate” for all students, a 35 percent bump for all poorer students and English learners and another 35 percent for districts where students in those groups make up 50 percent or more of the population.
“Research indicates that it is these students who we need to push toward proficiency and which involve more specific and costly educational programs,” Ecker said.
But what does it mean for districts that don’t have a majority of their students in these categories? Some officials are leery.
“There should be adequate funding for all students. We do not support any new formula that would take funds from one district to pay additional funds for specific populations to other districts,” said Sherry Kropp, superintendent at Los Alamitos Unified, especially because these students already receive additional funding.
“Increasing the difference in funding for different students is not adequate, nor does it support a quality education for all students,” she said.
Districts known as “basic aid” districts had heard rumors about the proposal, and officials were worried they may the biggest loser in the governor’s proposal.
“The unknown is a bit of a concern,” said Laguna Beach Unified’s spokesman Gerald Vlasic before Thursday’s press conference.
A basic aid district is situated in an area that generates enough property tax revenue that it doesn’t need to rely on the state financially. When a district meets that goal, it can keep any additional money above and beyond what the state gives other districts. (See this graphic from Irvine Unified, one of the three basic aid districts in Orange County, along with Laguna Beach and Newport-Mesa unifieds.)
After the press conference, they were breathing a little easier at Laguna Beach Unified.
“The definition of basic aid appears to be similar to the current definition. This is in line with the post-Prop. 30 intent not to hurt schools,” Vlasic said.
For the most part, finance gurus at Capistrano Unified are figuring they’ll end up for 2013-14 with pretty much what they had this year, which Superintendent Joseph Farley described Thursday at a forum as “limping along.”
“It looks good, but there are other shoes to drop,” Farley said, referencing the politicking that will take place between now and a final budget in June.
Officials at Saddleback Valley Unified are still analyzing the state budget.
“Gov. Brown's 2013-14 state budget is going to require a great deal of interpretation,” said Tammy Blakely, spokeswoman for SVUSD.
Brown actually proposed a similar idea last year, but it was taken off the table to be revamped. That’s the work Ecker’s committee has been doing.
“At the beginning of the process, there were many concerns for districts like ours,” Ecker said. With the changes, however, he sees less fodder for successful opposition.
“Governor Brown has a pretty good record of getting what he wants, and I suspect he will get this,” Ecker said.