MERCED — Merced area school leaders say a new education funding formula that Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed seems promising, but they want to see more details and remain wary of legislative changes to the proposal.
Brown talked about the formula and other issues, such as the state emerging from its financial crisis, in his State of the State address Thursday in Sacramento.
Some local school officials think the proposed formula would benefit area school districts because it would provide more funding and local control on how it is spent.
But it not known if it would be approved by the Legislature and what, if any, modifications would be made.
Misty Key, assistant superintendent for business services with the Merced County Office of Education, said the formula is a good thing for school districts in Merced County.
Key said she wouldn't call it an improvement over the current system, but would call it "simpler." The current school finance system is too complex, she said.
There would be fewer strings attached with the new formula, she said.
School districts would be able to spend more money on a specific topic or on whatever they need, Key said. "It gives us more control here locally," she said.
Scott Scambray, superintendent of the Merced Union High School District, acknowledged that the proposed formula would be an improvement on the way dollars are allocated to school districts now.
However, he cautioned that school officials don't have enough information about the formula and how it would work. At this point, Scambray said, it's unclear how the new formula would change schools' budgets.
"We are not going to get excited until we know for sure," he said.
H.D. Palmer of the California Department of Finance said the new funding formula would have to be approved by the Legislature because it would change the way dollars are allocated to school districts. The new funding formula is part of the budget proposal Brown sent to the Legislature earlier this month.
It would give local school districts more flexibility on how to spend the money, Palmer said, by getting rid of categorized programs.
Under the old system, for example, schools can't shift money earmarked for maintenance to the classroom or other areas in their budgets, he said.
"It would break down those barriers so school districts have the greatest opportunity to set priorities on those dollars," Palmer said, adding that Sacramento wouldn't dictate how school funding is spent at the local level.
School districts would be able to direct funding to meet students' needs.
There are 6.2 million students enrolled in California schools, and more than half, or about 3.3 million, are English language learners, have an economic disadvantage or both, Palmer said.
A student is identified by the state as having an economic disadvantage if he or she is eligible for a free or reduced lunch.
"These are the students that have some of the biggest challenges in terms of learning," Palmer said.
With projected growth in revenue from Proposition 98, which established a minimum annual funding guarantee for K-14 education, the state would be able to start allocating resources to districts based on student needs through the new formula, he said.
Merced County has a large number of English language learners as well as low-income students, which is why the local school districts would benefit from the new formula, Key said. They would receive additional money for the most needy students.
RoseMary Parga Duran, superintendent for the Merced City School District, said about 4,000 students in her district would be eligible for the additional funding for English language learners.
However, like Scambray, Duran said it's too early to know how things will evolve. "Right now, it's still up in the air (as to) how we are going to be funded," she said.
If the proposed formula is approved by the Legislature, it would be implemented in the coming fiscal year, but it would be phased in over a seven-year period, Palmer said.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482, or firstname.lastname@example.org.