The San Joaquin Valley’s response to the Governor’s budget

150 150 Niki Woodard

One of many school districts in the San Joaquin Valley that stands to benefit from Gov. Brown’s new budget

Not too long ago, Governor Jerry Brown unveiled his proposed budget. For the first time in more than a decade, deficit-encumbered California is projected to spend less than it takes in (about a billion dollars less).

Hailed by Californians of all ideological stripes as a welcome display of fiscal prudence, the governor’s budget is a particularly important achievement for the state’s fiscally conservative.

Connie Conway (R-Tulare), Assembly Minority Leader, wrote in an editorial on January 18, “When Gov. Jerry Brown released his proposal for this year’s state budget, I couldn’t believe my ears. It truly sounded as though the governor channeled his inner Republican.”

Conway’s response was fairly typical among San Joaquin Valley residents and elected officials. In effect, the sentiment can be surmised as one of pleasant surprise, somewhere along the lines of wow, I’m sure glad I didn’t place a bet on that one.

Jean Rousseau, Tulare County Chief Administrative Officer, told the Visalia Times-Delta, “I think the governor’s done a good job, quite frankly, getting the state’s fiscal house in order” without having to make major program cuts.

People in the Central Valley have focused on how the budget infuses much-needed funds into the state’s struggling education system, and shifts some control from the state to the local level.

The budget allocates $2.7 billion of new funding to K-12 schools, in addition to $1.8 billion in deferred payments. The increase in funding is largely a result of Proposition 30, which California voters approved in November 2012 with 55 percent of the vote.

Though every California school district will be receiving increased funding in the 2013/2014 fiscal year, districts with needier student populations will receive more. Under the governor’s proposed Local Control Funding Formula, school districts would receive supplemental funding for each low-income, English learner, or foster-care student served. Districts with high concentrations of English learners and economically disadvantaged students (50 percent or more) would receive additional funds. 

“School districts serving those students who have the greatest challenges will receive more generous increases—so that all students in California have the opportunity to succeed,” said the governor’s press office in a statement.

For the rural Central Valley, this spells out a promise of hope.

If all goes according to plan, Fresno Unified School District would reap significant financial benefits with 82 percent of its students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches and 40 percent English learners. Similarly, in the Bakersfield City School District, 89 percent of the student body qualify for free or reduced lunches and 29 percent are English learners.

In addition to boosting school funding, many in the Central Valley are heralding the governor’s plan for giving local districts more power to set their own priorities by removing categorical restrictions that dictate how certain state funds are used.

“Local control is a good, strong philosophy, and we support that,” said Mary Barlow, assistant superintendent at the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office in an interview with the Bakersfield Californian.

Though the governor’s budget must still pass through a gauntlet of revisions before it is approved, public sentiment bodes well for its journey.

According to Connie Conway, “While the governor’s budget raises challenging questions, it does present some opportunities for bipartisan action. Republicans stand ready to help pass a fiscally responsible budget that makes the governor’s ‘Year of Fiscal Discipline’ a reality.”


Niki Woodard

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