La Cañada Unified School District takes on Governor Brown plan

As California's June 30 budget deadline draws near, La Cañada Unified School District officials are partnering with Democratic state legislators and other districts to oppose Gov. Jerry Brown's plan for distributing state money and $6 billion in Proposition 30 revenue to schools over the next seven years.

They claim the governor's proposed Local Control Funding Formula — which provides per-pupil base grants, supplemental funding for students who are poor, learning English or in foster care, and still more money for schools where these student subgroups are concentrated — creates winners and losers and fails to adequately restore historic funding cuts.

California currently ranks 47th in the nation for per-pupil spending. Last school year, it spent an average of $8,382 per student — $2,850 less than the national average, according to the California School Board Association. Brown's proposal doesn't bridge that gap, says LCUSD Superintendent Wendy Sinnette.

"Yes, we support reform. Yes, we support local control. But we have to have a higher target that brings funding to every student at least to the national average," she said. "This is a huge opportunity, and to not do it right is a travesty."

On May 3, Sinnette and Board President Scott Tracy met with Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge), who recently co-authored Senate Bill 69. The bill calls for educational funding to be developed through a legislative process that would allow for discussion and the creation of accountability measures, rather than through the annual budget process.

"If (the plan) comes out in a budget proposal, the policy committees don't get to discuss the policy," Liu said in an interview Monday. "He skipped that part."

Liu, who also chairs the Senate Education Committee, says the bill suggests Brown raise the base grants for all districts and reconsider the "concentration" grants for schools with 50% or more English learners and low-income students.

"We all agree it takes more resources to teach kids who come from poverty, and it takes a little more for kids to be literate in English," Liu said. "We all agree on the outcome, we just don't agree on how you get there."

Demographically, LCUSD would receive the base grant with very little funding for its 196 English-learners and 66 students on free or reduced price lunch. At full implementation of LCFF in seven years, LCUSD would become the fifth-lowest funded K-12 district in California, receiving 46% fewer state dollars than the average of the 25 highest funded K-12 districts.

Although Proposition 30 aimed to prevent further cuts and recover some of the $20 billion in cuts schools have endured since the 2007/08 school year, at the end of its seven-year life span, La Cañada will be getting nearly $1,100 less per student than if the state merely paid back the deficits owed to schools and restored 2007-08 funding levels.

"The key thing is, clearly, to increase the base," Tracy said. "The way it's written now, it's truly winners and losers, and we are one of the biggest losers."

In the past five years, La Cañada schools have tightened their belts, eliminated positions and delayed technology and textbook upgrades while the community has picked up the slack through a parcel tax and increased donations to the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation.

Because of that additional revenue, the district has been able to maintain per-student spending at approximately $8606.

To start the next seven years from this current low funding level at a time when billions of dollars are coming in through Prop 30 and other income tax sources puts districts like LCUSD at a distinct disadvantage, Sinnette said.

"To have people in our community be taxed at a significantly higher rate, and having our parents feel the sting of the Prop 30 measure, having no additional relief, only pain — it's not a selling point," she said.

And La Cañada is not alone. Among the 13 school districts in Sen. Liu's district, nine would be funded at a lower level seven years from now, when Proposition 30 funding ends, than if they were merely "made whole" from five years of funding cuts and deferrals. In seven years, LCUSD will trail Los Angeles Unified in per-pupil state funding by $3,317. Part of the reason for meeting with Liu was to address those discrepancies, Tracy said.

"We're on the front lines, and she needs to hear from us and other school districts she represents to better understand the importance of the governor's proposal on her constituents," he said.

In the meantime, LCUSD has joined the California School Finance Reform Coalition, a group of more than 30 public school districts across the state that supports finding ways to better funding for every school district without failing those students who require additional educational resources.

On May 7, the school board adopted a resolution voicing its concerns and referencing two CSBA reports that provide a road map toward bringing the state's per-pupil spending to the national average. It was meant as a statement of intention, much like SB-69.

"I don't know how successful we'll be," Liu said of the coordinated efforts, "but we're going to fight like heck."

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