That rushing noise you heard Wednesday was not the roar of another meteor arriving. It was the sound of administrators from California public schools — particularly those from economically disadvantaged areas — getting their first look at the specifics of Gov. Jerry Brown's funding plan for K-12 education. It was the sound of cheering.
Thanks to voter-approved tax hikes and a rebounding economy, funding for schools is on the upswing. But before it's all spent, Brown wants to take advantage of the opportunity to simplify the state's archaic funding system and make it more fair, with an emphasis on directing more money to schools with low-income students and English learners.
For Santa Rosa City Schools District, the governor's plan show per-pupil funding increasing from $6,693 this year to $7,432 in two years, a bump of about 11 percent. But that's only the beginning. If Brown's plan is approved and the state economy continues to grow and remain strong, by the end of the rollout in 1919-20, the district's funding would be $10,766 per student, an increase of more than 60 percent.
Santa Rosa middle schools and high schools would see per-pupil funding increase about 6 percent over the next two years to $7,357 per student. By the time the program is in full effect in seven years, funding would be up 39.5 percent overall to $9,660.
Here's how the new program would work:
; Districts would receive a base grant for each student. The state average would be about $6,800 when fully funded. In general, high schools would receive a little more while elementary schools would receive a little less. The base grant would include money that the state still owes to school districts as a result of previous budget cuts and delayed cost-of-living increases.
; For the state's 230 charter schools and basic-aid school districts — such as the Kenwood, Healdsburg Unified and Sonoma Valley Unified school districts, which get sufficient support from local property taxes — funding levels would see little to no change.
; Districts with disadvantaged students such as low-income students and English-language learners would receive a supplement of $2,385 per student. Those districts in which high-needs students comprise more than half of enrollment would receive substantially more.
This will be gratifying news for a number of local districts. According to the governor's table, the Bellevue Union Elementary school district in southwest Santa Rosa, for example, stands to see its per-pupil funding increase 79 percent over the next seven years to $11,672 per student.
Meanwhile, the governor appears to be standing by his plan to give local districts more flexibility in how it spends its money. This has drawn criticism from some concerned that districts are more likely to be pressured by unions to spend these new funds on salaries rather than restoring music programs. Some people also are concerned that, given the easing on requirements on "categorical" spending, funding on vocational education programs and other career pathway programs may go by the wayside.
These are legitimate concerns. But just as we support spending flexibility and transparency at the local level, we believe accountability can and will be found there as well.
The state Legislature should approve the governor's funding plan.