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Brown talks budget with CSBA’s board  

Governor seeks support for his revenue initiative

In a historic—possibly unprecedented—meeting March 25, Gov. Jerry Brown engaged in a spirited discussion with CSBA’s entire Board of Directors on education funding as Brown sought the association’s support for his voter initiative to raise state revenues.

“This is a critical moment,” Brown said, sitting at a conference table with CSBA’s 33 officers and directors and Executive Director Vernon M. Billy. After years of budget cuts affecting virtually every line item in the state’s general fund, Brown said legislators will be hard-pressed to choose among competing needs in a still-shrinking state budget. “If we don’t get the taxes, it’s dog eat dog. It’s not going to be pretty.”

The governor outlined his revised ballot initiative, the Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act, which is a centerpiece of his 2012-13 state budget proposal. Brown recently merged his initiative with another circulated by the California Federation of Teachers, but the new initiative retains much of the same wording as the governor’s original measure, calling for temporary hikes in sales and income taxes.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office projects that it would raise between $6.8 billion and $9 billion in 2012-13 and between $5.4 billion and $7.6 billion thereafter through 2015-16, with lesser amounts after as the tax hikes expire. Assuming that K-14 schools would receive roughly 40 percent of the new revenue under Proposition 98’s minimum education funding guarantee, that could be between $2.7 billion and $3.6 billion in 2012-13 and between $2.1 billion and $3 billion after that through 2015-16, with lesser amounts in 2016-17 through 2018-19.

Without revenues from the Brown/CFT initiative, Proposition 98 funding would be $2.4 billion less in 2012-13, and a proposed shift of debt service into Proposition 98—which CSBA and other friends of public education contend is illegitimate—would increase the total impact on Proposition 98 to $4.8 billion. 

Southern California attorney Molly Munger is seeking to qualify a separate ballot initiative, the Local Schools and Early Education Investment Act, which supporters contend would raise $10 billion for schools and preschool programs beginning in 2013-14. Munger made her case to CSBA’s Board of Directors in January.

CSBA’s officers and directors welcomed the governor’s visit but questioned his budget proposals, including the debt service shift and a second straight year of potential cuts that would be triggered by failure of Brown’s efforts to raise revenues. Speakers noted schools have suffered $20 billion in cuts and deferred state apportionments in the past four years. Board members also questioned his budget proposals concerning the future of transportation funding.

“I understand you’ve been cut. A lot of things have been cut,” Brown said. He and budget adviser Ana Matosantos, who accompanied the governor to the CSBA meeting—as did Sue Burr, executive director of the State Board of Education and a key education adviser—said his proposal would help close the continuing budget shortfalls plaguing the state and stabilize funding.  Brown noted that Munger’s rival revenue initiative would not give schools any additional funding in 2012-13.

CSBA’s board also questioned Brown’s budget proposals concerning the future of transportation funding and his approach to weighted student funding. On the latter, the governor’s 2012-13 budget proposal would implement a new paradigm for distributing education revenues, with base funding for all students and additional revenues for students posing particular challenges, as well as extra funding for high concentrations of such students; Brown would award extra funding for English learners and students from lower-income homes—but students would qualify for one or the other, not both, and his proposal does not acknowledge the extra burden of educating students with special needs, as other weighted student funding concepts do.

“There are some winners and losers” compared to existing allocation formulas, acknowledged Matosantos. Brown’s weighted student formula replaces the flexibility granted for categorical education programs in recent years with “a more permanent flexible funding structure,” she said.

CSBA President Jill Wynns accepted Brown’s offer for CSBA to meet with his administration on budget issues. The Board of Directors will consider whether to endorse Brown’s revenue initiative—or Munger’s, or both, or neither—at a later date.

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