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In bid for support, Gov. Jerry Brown modifies school proposals

February 15, 2012 | 12:16 pm

School bus

(UPDATED with responses from education advocates.)

Gov. Jerry Brown is walking back two of his school funding proposals in response to concerns from education officials. His modified plan, which will be presented to lawmakers at a hearing on Thursday, would preserve money for school buses and prevent districts from losing funding in the next budget year.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for Brown’s Department of Finance, said the governor wants to ensure the education community supports his wide-ranging effort to change the way the state divvies up $46.6 billion among school districts.

“It’s an important change and we think it’s the right change,” Palmer said. “In response to some issues and concerns we’ve heard, we want to make sure we get as much support as possible.”

By modifying the current formula -- which Brown’s administration calls “too complex, administratively costly and inequitable” -– the governor wants to provide local school districts with more flexibility to spend the money they get from the state. If the new formula is approved by the Legislature, some districts will eventually see their funding reduced. But Brown has agreed to soften the blow by phasing in the changes over six years instead of five and preventing any district from losing funding in the next budget year.

However, if voters reject Brown’s proposal for tax hikes in November, the governor still plans to cut $4.8 billion from schools. School officials have been wary of Brown’s plans, and the governor has signaled he’s open to “considering technical adjustments” to his funding proposals.

School bus funding has been a hot button topic, particularly for small and rural districts that rely on state funding to shuttle students over long distances. Brown already agreed to restore $248 million for buses in the current budget year, and now he is modifying his proposal to make sure schools have the same amount of funding available for transportation in the next budget year.

Dennis Meyers, spokesman for California School Boards Association, said his organization was still reviewing Brown's funding proposals. He pointed out that transportation funding would be presevered only for one more year.

“That means school districts will have to budget that cut in the following fiscal year," he said.

Jeff Vaca, deputy executive director at the California Association of School Business Officials, said he's glad Brown's proposal would provide districts with more spending flexibility by eliminating some state mandates and making others optional. But he expressed worry that school funding will not rebound enough.

“Our main concern … is that education has taken major hits in recent years. We’re concerned about starting a new formula that creates a ‘new normal’ and creates funds differently without restoring the amounts that have previously been cut," Vaca said.

RELATED:

Report: Mixed grades for school proposals

California lawmakers keep school buses rolling

Gov. Jerry Brown's new budget plan targets schools

-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento
Twitter: @chrismegerian

Photo: Students in Death Valley ride state-funded buses to school, a two-hour round trip. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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