Education Spotlighted in California's Fiscal 2000 Budget
California districts soon will see an influx of new funding geared toward raising their students' performance, thanks to the state's $81.3 billion budget for fiscal 2000.
The plan hikes state general-fund spending on education by $1.6 billion over the previous year to $26.4 billion, a jump of 6.6 percent. The average spending per pupil will rise by $274, to $6,025. Despite the increase, however, that amount is still far below the national average for the 1999-2000 school year of $7,583.
Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat who took office in January, surrounded himself with dozens of students as he signed the budget in front of the state Capitol in Sacramento on June 30. He declared that the budget, which was signed by its deadline for the first time in six years, "expands educational opportunity for children and demands increased accountability from all of us."
Education is considered a big winner in the state's budget document for the new fiscal year, which began July 1. One of the largest windfalls will come from $192 million in state aid that complements new legislation to hold students and schools more accountable for their performance. ("Reform Bills Pass in Calif. Legislature," March 31, 1999.)
Of that total, $96 million will go to help 430 schools deemed to be troubled based on a new performance index to be released this fall. Another $96 million will be spent on rewards for schools that improve on state exams and other indicators.
In a separate line item, $50 million will be spent on performance bonuses of up to $25,000 per teacher at low-performing schools where students show academic improvement.
And in the late stages of budget talks, a coalition led by teacher groups won another $50 million to help districts raise the minimum teacher salary to $32,000 for fully certified teachers. Districts that raise their minimum salaries for teachers to that level will qualify for the state money, which must be directed to pay for starting teachers.
"The funds could be used as an incentive to recruit new teachers," said Ann Bancroft, a spokeswoman for state Secretary of Education Gary K. Hart.
"It's going to have a significant impact," said Mike Myslinski, a spokesman for the California Teachers Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association. "Over the next 10 years, we're looking at having to hire about 300,000 new teachers."
To help schools provide instruction that is in sync with the state's new academic standards, the budget provides $134 million in one-time aid for new textbooks and $25 million for K-4 library reading materials.
While the 6 percent increase in school aid overall is on par with recent years, school leaders are especially pleased about a new $455 million in discretionary funding for districts. The money became available after the state adjusted projections for new student enrollment in the coming year downward from 84,000 to 45,000 pupils, freeing up more dollars for districts' discretionary use.
And, after the April 20 shooting spree at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colo., that left 14 students and a teacher dead, Gov. Davis proposed adding $100 million to the budget for school safety.
That money was included in the document he signed last month. The bulk of the aid is expected to be spent on safety grants for metal detectors, improved communications, counselors, and other locally selected priorities.
For all of the new spending, the fiscal 2000 budget failed to include $581 million in spending that had been approved by the legislature, but was vetoed by Mr. Davis.
Among the education items he squelched was a $29 million academic block-grant program to help students prepare for a high school exit exam, which they will be required to pass in 2004.
The document that outlines the governor's line-item vetoes, however, argued that schools have "significant flexibility" in other state aid to use summer school and after-school programs for that purpose.
Mr. Davis also eliminated funding for a parent-involvement program, for which lawmakers had proposed spending about $12 million. The governor said he wasn't satisfied that the plan met his goals of providing teachers the opportunity to visit their students' homes and opening schools on weekends for programs for parents, students, and others.
"I will consider legislation to achieve this objective," he added.
Vol. 18, Issue 42, Page 17