First published in the May 19 print issue of the Pasadena Outlook.
Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled the May revision of California’s budget plan breaking $300 billion for the 2022-23 fiscal year, which included a staggering $97.5-billion surplus to distribute this year, and the news was more than welcome by school leaders who have dealt with rising expenditures and low attendance brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Simply without precedent. No other state in American history has ever experienced a surplus as large as this,” Newsom said after unveiling the historic $300.7-billion budget blueprint he is proposing to the state legislature, which has until June 15 to negotiate with the governor and pass the budget.
General fund revenues are estimated to be nearly $55 billion higher than what was proposed five months ago, and a large portion of the spending will go toward K-12 education. The budget includes more than $128 billion in funding for public education and districts will receive about $22,850 per student — the highest per-pupil funding in California’s history. By comparison, the current state budget’s per-pupil funding is $21,555 when accounting for all funding
“I see some of these governors out there, [and] their big idea of education reform is what you can’t say in the classroom. … It’s comedic, and that’s what all the time and attention goes to,” Newsom said. “That’s not education, let alone reform. This is education. This is about completely reimagining the public education system.”
Though unsure of how exactly it would impact the La Cañada Unified School District, Mark Evans, LCUSD’s associate superintendent of business and administrative services, responded positively to the governor’s proposal, especially the increase in base funding.
Newsom’s blueprint includes a fiscal stability plan for schools that would update the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, to 6.56% for the Local Control Funding Formula, a budget formula approved by voters in 2013 that calculates a base grant for each student.
The proposed COLA is the highest in state history, and Newsom would also like to provide $2.1 billion more in LCFF base funding to allay some of the concerns expressed by superintendents, such as staffing shortages, rising pension costs and fluctuating attendance rates.
“The additional $2.1 billion in base funding is really good news because that helps all school districts,” Evans told the Outlook Valley Sun on Tuesday. “I don’t know how that exactly translates for La Cañada, but it’s a plus for all districts.”
The formula used to determine funding for schools is based on average daily attendance, or ADA, which has declined throughout the state as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Under Newsom’s proposal, he would allow districts to use one of three figures to calculate their LCFF funding: School districts can go with this or last year’s ADA, whichever is greater, or an average of the three prior years’ ADA.
“There has been an issue with enrollment during the pandemic, and attendance rates have dropped as well because of so many illnesses; not just COVID,” Evans said. “Parents were being cautious and keeping children at home, which is a good thing. La Cañada has a good attendance rate, but it has ticked down during the pandemic, and I appreciated the fact that the governor and Legislature have been talking about this issue because it affects all districts.”
While most education leaders applauded the proposed budget for its increase in funding per pupil, one of the most pleasant surprises for Evans was Newsom’s plan to allocate an additional $1.8 billion to the state’s general fund to support funding for construction and modernization projects at schools.
“That was good to see. Funding for not just new buildings but also deferred maintenance. That’s not just helping schools keep up with new technology, but also helps with basic upkeep,” Evans said.
Though the unprecedented figures in the May revision bode well for California schools, Evans remains cautiously optimistic about the proposal, saying that it still has to be negotiated with the Legislature, and details haven’t been finalized.
“I knew there were going to be additional dollars, but I wasn’t sure on how they were going to be allocated. I still don’t know,” Evans said. “We have to keep an eye on whether or not they are unrestricted funds or they are going to be specific allocations. … The more it goes to general fund, the more it benefits La Cañada.”
State Sen. Anthony Portantino of La Cañada Flintridge, who authored a bill that would base school funding on enrollment rather than attendance earlier this year, commended the governor for a May revise that proposes the “highest levels of funding for our public education system” and invests in after-school programs and special education.
“Also included in the proposal are important investments to tackle declining enrollment and infrastructure updates,” he said in a statement. “These investments are critical to helping our youth achieve academic success and preparing the next generation of leaders.”