New Calif. Budget Would Hike K-12 Spending
Spurred by a booming economy and surplus tax dollars, Gov. Gray Davis of California has revamped his proposed budget to include $1.1 billion more for schools than he proposed just four months ago.
If approved by the legislature, the funding hikes would increase total state spending on schools to $26.5 billion, a 6.7 percent increase over the current budget.
But even as school leaders say they would welcome the unexpected increases, which Mr. Davis proposed May 14, some are grumbling over details of how the first-term Democratic governor would share the wealth.
Under his revised plan, the governor would earmark all of the new education dollars for specific programs and simultaneously decrease the cost-of-living adjustment used to calculate standard budget hikes for districts, to 1.41 percent instead of 1.83 percent.
As a result, the new plan would give districts more money overall, but less money to use at their own discretion than the earlier version of the fiscal 2000 budget, said Kevin Gordon, the assistant executive director of the California School Boards Association.
"We have a lot of work to do in helping the governor understand the impact of the new budget on school districts," Mr. Gordon said. "When virtually every single penny is spent and not passed on to local districts to have some control over, that's causing huge concerns."
Michael Bustamante, a spokesman for the governor, maintains that the new budget gives districts plenty of flexibility. He pointed to a new measure passed by the legislature in March, through which the state will reward schools with up to $150 per student when they attain specific gains on the state's newly developed student-performance index, a ranking system that judges schools on the basis of test scores, attendance rates, and other factors.
"If schools improve by 5 percent this year over last year, they're eligible for more money," Mr. Bustamante said. "We have a window of opportunity we have to work with in order to get the schools to do better. California schools have languished for too long, and Governor Davis is intent on reversing that."
The $1.1 billion boon for schools makes up more than a quarter of a $4.3 billion budget surplus that state officials attribute mainly to personal-income-tax revenues inflated by stock market profits. Legislators aren't likely to approve a final budget until June.
Because state leaders can't guarantee they will have as much money to work with in future years, the governor's proposal includes such one-time expenditures as an additional $144 million for new textbooks and instructional materials, for a total of $320 million in spending on such items in fiscal 2000, as well as $143.7 million to pay for maintenance of school facilities.
Mr. Davis' proposal also includes a new school-safety package that would provide $42.5 million in grants for schools to buy metal detectors and shatter-proof windows for buildings deemed to need such safeguards. The grants would be based on reviews made by law-enforcement officials of every school's safety plan.
Another $42.5 million would be used to recruit approximately one new counselor who specializes in conflict resolution for every high school in the state.
The plan for more school counselors is a welcome addition, said Michael E. Myslinski, a spokesman for the California Teachers Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association.
"It's a start," Mr. Myslinski said. "Something had to be done."
Some of the governor's other new proposals have proved more contentious.
Under Mr. Davis' $100 million incentive-pay program for teachers, two-thirds of the money would be used to reward teachers who successfully raised test scores of students in low-performing schools, specifically the schools in the bottom half of the performance rankings statewide. The remaining portion would pay for bonuses for teachers who committed to working in the lowest-ranked schools for at least three years.
To officials from the state's teachers' unions who have been lobbying for statewide increases to starting teachers' "notoriously low" salaries, the governor's incentive-pay plan seems shortsighted, Mr. Myslinski said.
"Teachers want to be paid a living wage," he said. "To have a higher starting salary and know that there's some stability in the salary is a better approach than short-term bonuses."
Starting teachers in California made an average of almost $28,000 a year in the 1997-98 school year, he said. The average starting salary for teachers nationwide that year was just below $26,000, according to the American Federation of Teachers.
Mr. Davis chose to propose salary increases in the form of incentives because he is "intent on asking everyone to do more" for schools, Mr. Bustamante said.
"This is a way to reward those who've been working hard and encourage others," the governor's spokesman said. "We're trying to instill excellence in schools."
Vol. 18, Issue 37, Pages 18-19