The California Board of Education Thursday approved emergency rules for an historic overhaul of school spending designed to direct more money to the state’s neediest students.
The unanimous board vote followed a marathon Sacramento meeting in which more than 300 educators, civil rights advocates, parents, students and lawmakers made 11th-hour pitches for how districts should spend their money.
The Local Control Funding Formula proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown in January and approved by legislators in June gives districts additional dollars to help low-income students, English-language learners and foster children.
But the Democratic governor and lawmakers left it to the state Board of Education to establish the regulatory details. The key conflict: Whether districts should be able to spend money dedicated for disadvantaged students on districtwide needs that may also benefit more affluent children.
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At the state board meeting Thursday, dozens of advocacy groups and students said they feared giving districts such flexibility would weaken efforts to close the achievement gap.
That would put the education system at risk of “doing a little bit for everybody and a whole lot for nobody,” said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a San Diego Democrat representing the Legislative Black Caucus.
The board ultimately adopted rules that did not include an amendment ought by a coalition of 30 education and civil rights groups, including the ACLU, Public Advocates and the Children’s Defense Fund in California.
David Sapp, staff attorney for the ACLU, said the amendment would have eased coalition member’s concerns by requiring districts to give increased assurances that added funding would be “principally directed toward serving students in need” and that the strategies for accomplishing that would be effective.
Brown made a surprise morning appearance, telling the crowd of hundreds that the most competent level of decision-making must include those on the front lines of education – teachers, neighborhoods, parents and students. He said that the regulations can be made better over time.
“We are not omnipotent,” he told the group. “A little humility is in order.”
After Brown left, a small group of students disrupted the meeting with the loud chant, “Education is Life. We fight for our rights,” until they were ejected from the meeting.
Under the funding formula, all school districts receive a base amount funding. In districts where needy students exceed 40 percent of enrollment, additional funds would supplement the base. Districts with needy enrollments exceeding 55 percent would get even more money, known as concentration grants. The amounts would increase yearly until 2020-2021.
The change comes as California’s K-12 schools have begun to see a significant restoration in funding thanks to a 2012 statewide tax initiative and a surge in capital gains that have filled state coffers.
The formula is expected to bring some of the biggest per-pupil funding increases in the Sacramento region to districts such as Robla Elementary and Woodland Joint Unified, which have high percentages of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.
The 2,200-student Robla School District with five elementary campuses, has nearly 90 percent low-income enrollment, said Superintendent Ruben Reyes.
“For us, there is not a classroom in my school district that does not have a large number of poor children and English learners,” he said in an interview. What is good for the 90 percent needy students, he said, “is generally good” for the other 10 percent.
Jay Hansen, trustee for Sacramento City Unified, said the proposed regulations are “on target and allows districts like ours to do right by our students and by our families. He said the district “is excited if not daunted by the challenges” of the funding transformation.