First published in the May 21 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
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.
“That’s really huge,” said Deborah Deal, the interim chief business and financial officer for the Glendale Unified School District, during this week’s school board meeting. “Since January, those revenues have continued to come in so strong.”
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.”
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.
“That is a number we can count on and we can put it in our budget,” Deal said on the 6.56% adjustment, having added, “We expect to have more, as the state continues to negotiate with the legislature and the governor. We expect that that COLA will grow, but what we will put into the adopted budget at this point is the statutory COLA.
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.
“I am elated that the governor is proposing a significant investment in our schools,” Superintendent Vivian Ekchian said in a statement. “As we finalize our budget priorities for the coming school year, we remain steadfast in our commitment to taking an equity-based approach to ensure we maximize achievement, foster a positive culture of learning and ensure the health and wellbeing of every child in our district.”
State Sen. Anthony Portantino, whose district includes Glendale and who authored a bill that would base school funding on enrollment rather than attendance earlier this year, commended the governor for a May revise 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.”
Glendale school board members expressed cautious optimism about the funding and looked forward to future workshops on the budget.
“We are pleased to see the greater investment in our public schools, but they don’t tell the whole story. TK is a great example of that. I’m sure we’ll be investing additional funds for TK — we’re transitioning to a whole new grade — but that’s not new dollars to spend on everything else the district needs,” board member Shant Sahakian said.
“I am excited to see how this process flushes out with more options than usual than we’ve had in previous budget years,” he added, “but [we will need to] keep an eye on what this means for next year and the year after, with inflation where it is, with all of the economic projections in the out-years not being as optimistic and how we make sure the district is ready for that.”