Signal file photo of the state's Capitol building ion Sacramento

Governor adds billions to K-12 funding

An additional $3 billion in funding is on its way to California schools following the “May Revise,” an annual budget proposal from Gov. Jerry Brown’s office.

Santa Clarita Valley parents and school districts hoping that money will support local special education programs, however, might have to wait a little longer, according to state officials.

“Given the scope of the feedback and the complexity of the state’s special ed program area,” according to the budget summary, “the administration will spend additional time in the coming months examining these issues to chart a path forward that will maximize resources to serve students while increasing transparency and accountability.”

Educators across the state have felt disgruntled in recent years with the government’s inability to find adequate funding for special education.

“Every year, the number of students in my general education class with special services increases,” said Maria Blue, a teacher who previously spoke at a Saugus Union School District board meeting. “I currently have 25 percent of my class with Individual Education Plans, requiring a lot of individual attention.”

The current Teacher of the Year from Emblem Academy continued to say her colleagues feel disregarded and unsupported, and it’s safe to assume others do, too.

That’s because the budget for special education programs in a district rarely covers the cost, but the services are mandatory.

“Last year’s general fund contribution to special education was around $6.3 million,” Newhall Assistant Superintendent Jeff Pelzel said, which creates a challenge in terms of potentially attracting, retaining and training additional staff.

“Despite having limited funds,” Newhall board president Philip Ellis said, “there are certain things we still have to do no matter what.”

Special education is one of those things, Ellis said. “We must provide an equal educational opportunity to every child within district boundaries,” and sometimes it costs more to provide basic education to one student than it does the others.

The May Revise proposed an average per-pupil spending increase from $11,149 to $11,614, according to the California School Boards Association.

However, one student with “explosive and maladaptive behaviors” cost the Newhall School District more than $99,712 for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years, according to a previous agenda. This cost translates to the district spending nearly nine times the regularly funded amount of money it receives per pupil from the state to address the social, emotional and academic needs of a student for a therapeutic setting.

California’s latest budget proposal calls for $137.6 billion in general fund expenditures and predicted a surplus of $8.8 billion, which is $2.7 billion more than the original projection of $6.1 billion in January’s budget proposal.

The revised version of January’s $132 billion spending plan projects the UC and CSU systems to see the same 3 percent increase that was originally predicted, but the new proposal also calls for an additional $3 billion of funding for K-12 schools and community colleges.

“In terms of the May Revise,” Pelzel said, “(districts) are seeing the opportunity for additional supplemental funds that would allow us to provide additional resources.”

Proposition 98, which was passed by voters in 1988, is a formula that establishes the minimum annual funding level for K-12 schools and community colleges, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. It currently constitutes over 70 percent of the total K-12 funding and almost two-thirds of total community college funding.

Despite currently being budgeted at $78.3 billion, Prop 98’s funding has not always provided enough resources to fully fund the growth or necessary resources school districts require.

Pelzel said he’s not worried because, “we always build a backup plan for how we are going to spend.”

“When we gather LCAP stakeholder feedback, we listen to students, teachers and the community to create a priorities list,” he said, “so if we were to have extra funds following the revise, we can go back and adjust based on our previously stated priorities.”

If the latest budget proposal were to be approved, then the K-12 local control funding formula, which gives districts the autonomy to decide how state spend funding is spent, would grow by $2.9 billion dollars and reach its funding targets for the first time since its inception in 2013, according to analysis from the California Senate Republican Caucus.

“The Governor’s Budget proposed almost $290 million in discretionary one‑time Proposition 98 funding for school districts, charter schools, and county offices of education,” according to the budget revise. “(It) proposes almost $750 million in additional funds, providing more than $1 billion in one‑time discretionary funding to schools in 2017‑18.”

The funding is discretionary, the revise reads, so it’s available to further the implementation of the state‑adopted academic standards, make investments in professional development, purchase instructional materials and technology to prepare both students and teachers for success and address infrastructure or deferred maintenance needs.

Most school districts in the SCV won’t know how they will use the funds until they finish budget preparations in the coming weeks, but almost every district should be affected in some way, Sulphur Springs Board President Ken Chase said. “All money changes reflected in the May Revise will be incorporated in our latest budget,” which will be reviewed at the district’s June 13 meeting.

The Saugus and Castaic districts are also expected to review the proposed funding changes when they meet to plan their budgets during the month of June, as well.

Due to an expected increase in pension contributions and healthcare services, Gov. Brown has proposed districts use virtually all of the remaining increases in 2017‑18 K‑12 funding to eliminate any debt schools might’ve accumulated in previous years.

Senate Republicans have commended the governor for his priorities, according to the California Senate Republican Caucus website. The group has called for using the education surplus to fund career technical education, which should have a positive impact on schools in the Hart District who specialize in career technical education.

Meanwhile, members of the Newhall board believe the budget revision’s enhancement to the cost of living adjustment will have the greatest impact on the district.

“Our cost of living adjustment has not been fully funded and there were several years where we didn’t get one at all,” Newhall board member Christy Smith said. “To be able to have one this year is a huge benefit to the district.”

The Legislature has until June 15 to send the final agreed upon budget to Gov. Brown, who will then have until July 1 to sign it.

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