First published in the May 21 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled the May revision of California’s budget plan breaking $300 billion for the 2022-23 fiscal year, which included a staggering $97.5-billion surplus to distribute this year, and the news was more than welcome by school leaders who have dealt with rising expenditures and low attendance brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Simply without precedent. No other state in American history has ever experienced a surplus as large as this,” Newsom said after unveiling the historic $300.7-billion budget blueprint he is proposing to the state Legislature, which has until June 15 to negotiate with the governor and pass the budget.
General fund revenues are estimated to be nearly $55 billion higher than what was proposed five months ago, and a large portion of the spending will go toward K-12 education. The budget includes more than $128 billion in funding for public education and districts will receive about $22,850 per student — the highest per-pupil funding in California’s history. By comparison, the current state budget’s per-pupil funding is $21,555 when accounting for all funding.
“I see some of these governors out there, [and] their big idea of education reform is what you can’t say in the classroom. … It’s comedic, and that’s what all the time and attention goes to,” Newsom said. “That’s not education, let alone reform. This is education. This is about completely reimagining the public education system.”
Burbank Unified School District Superintendent Matt Hill responded positively to the governor’s proposal, especially the increase in base funding.
“We were excited about where it’s going, but we definitely need to see the details. The fact that they’re talking about the base funding for us, in addition to the cost-of-living adjustment, is very promising.”
Newsom’s blueprint includes a fiscal stability plan for schools that would update the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, to 6.56% for the Local Control Funding Formula, a budget formula approved by voters in 2013 that calculates a base grant for each student.
The proposed COLA is the highest in state history, and Newsom would also like to provide $2.1 billion more in LCFF base funding to allay some of the concerns expressed by superintendents, such as staffing shortages, rising pension costs and fluctuating attendance rates.
The formula used to determine funding for schools is based on average daily attendance, or ADA, which has declined throughout the state as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Under Newsom’s proposal, he would allow districts to use one of three figures to calculate their LCFF funding: School districts can go with this or last year’s ADA, whichever is greater, or an average of the three prior years’ ADA.
Hill said the budget proposal would allow school districts to use attendance figures prior to the pandemic, which would help boost their ADA numbers.
“The hold harmless for this year around attendance is a positive,” he said, referring to the fact that legally entities cannot face litigation if they suffer damage while providing a service. “We just know with COVID cases, it’s been a challenging year for all school districts, and so that’s beneficial.”
While most education leaders applauded the proposed budget for its increase in funding per pupil, another pleasant surprise for Hill was Newsom’s plan to allocate an additional $1.8 billion to the state’s general fund to support funding for construction and modernization projects at schools.
“We know with inflation and construction costs rising that we need matching funds to support school districts, so it’s a good thing,” Hill said.
The figures in the record budget are promising but Hill believes there are still some issues that need to be addressed. The superintendent would like to see more funding not tied to Proposition 98, which establishes the minimum requirement of funding for schools but is also restricted by the Legislature as to how it can be spent.
“We are still advocating that they use non-Prop 98 funding to buy down some of the pension liabilities. That would help every school district,” Hill said. “It’s been loud and clear from school districts that we need non-Prop 98 money to bring down the pension liability because they just keep going up.”
State Sen. Anthony Portantino, whose district includes most of Burbank and authored a bill that would base school funding on enrollment rather than attendance earlier this year, commended the governor for a May revision that proposes the “highest levels of funding for our public education system” and invests in after-school programs and special education.
“Also included in the proposal are important investments to tackle declining enrollment and infrastructure updates,” he said in a statement. “These investments are critical to helping our youth achieve academic success and preparing the next generation of leaders.”