School funding deal important for California economy

150 150 Lenny Mendonca and Cruz Reynoso

The Governor and Legislature today reached a significant agreement putting more control of school funding in local hands. This compromise is important for the state’s economy because it entrusts building a better workforce that aligns local industry needs with the local schools. Here’s more on why California Forward believes the overhaul of education funding is the right thing to do.

Governor Jerry Brown’s budget agreement with top lawmakers over school funding marks a pivotal moment in the future of California. The budget deal’s core statute – the way state money will be redistributed to schools – is what will define the state moving forward, and in a positive way.

For months now, education advocates and the lawmakers have been working over the Governor’s proposal to fundamentally change how the state finances K-12 schools. In a dramatic break from the decades-old debate over how much money to give schools, the educational lobby has become completely enmeshed in the how. These months of debate have paved the way for the Governor’s budget proposal to become a budget deal, an accomplishment whose achievement today cannot be understated.

The budget deal will significantly simplify and rebalance how the state allocates money among school districts and charter schools serving 6 million students. The measure will give more resources to schools that must close the achievement gap for California to thrive. And the new formula will significantly shift discretion – and with it responsibility and accountability – from the state to all local school boards and administrators.

The details matter – and have been the subject of daily negotiations, analysis and insider commentaries. But you don’t need to be a school board member or a union leader, or even a teacher or bus driver, to care and ultimately benefit from this kind of fundamental reform.

Just think how frequently big city mayors put fixing their local school district at the top of their agenda. Of all of their legal responsibilities at city hall, schools are not one of them.  Yet they all know that unless the schools are retaining excellent teachers and led by inspiring principals – unless students are learning and parents are confident – nothing they do at city hall will make their community a great place to live and do business.

Employers often have similar concerns. First, of course, they need a trained and motivated workforce. They also want a community-based school system that helps them lure talented employees with families of their own.

And while the capitol is filled with terrific advocates, some of the greatest community activists – make that innovators – are working at school sites, with those excellent teachers and inspiring principals. There is a reason why the President’s Promise Neighborhoods program is run by the Department of Education.

So how does something so mundane as a “Local Control Funding Formula” play into all of this? Because with more discretion, all of those leaders at the community level can lead. Sure there will be squabbles. Everything cannot be a top priority at Cesar Chavez Elementary School any more than they can all be a top priority in the Assembly or Senate chambers in Sacramento.

But under this budget, the education leaders in your community will have a shot at making things better if they can direct dollars to strategies and programs that work best for the kids in your community.

And that does matter. California Forward and its partners at the California Stewardship Network are wrapping up 16 regional forums that are defining an agenda for the second annual California Economic Summit this November in Los Angeles. These conversations – on what is working and what must work better – are affirming that investing smartly in “human capital,” children and young adults, is essential for California and Californians to thrive.

Over the last several years, California Forward distilled the best thinking and analysis, wisdom and insight, in developing proposals for improving how California is governed.  “Moving Government Closer to the People” is one of the consistent imperatives in a state growing ever larger, diverse and complex.

Similarly, over the last dozen years, blue ribbon commissions and think tank calculations have frequently concluded that a simplified formula that gives more resources to schools with students from disadvantaged backgrounds is important to improving student success.

So the philosophy behind the Governor’s budget is not new. It’s just time. It won’t fix everything, but it is a significant step in the right direction on the critical path to vitality.  And for that reason, California Forward – a nonpartisan organization that is not an educational “stakeholder,” but recognizes that we all have a stake in how education decisions are made – enthusiastically endorses the Governor’s proposal.

Finally, it is all too easy to complain that elected officials don’t take on the big issues or don’t try hard enough to craft meaningful solutions. So it is incumbent on all of us to recognize when they do just that.

Lenny Mendonca and the Honorable Cruz Reynoso are members of California Forward’s Leadership Council


Lenny Mendonca and Cruz Reynoso

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