School Climate & Safety

Wilson Seeks Extra Funds for Class-Size Cuts, Tests, Technology in California

By Robert C. Johnston — May 21, 1997 2 min read

Enjoying the fruits of a vibrant state economy, California Gov. Pete Wilson added $340 million to his 1997-98 budget plan last week to help pay for smaller class sizes, standardized tests, and school technology.

Under Mr. Wilson’s amended budget proposal, another $230 million would be pumped into the state’s K-3 class-size-reduction effort, raising revenue for the program to $1.5 billion beginning in the fall.

“It means that, eventually, 1.9 million children will learn in classes of no greater than 20,” the Republican governor told his audience at a May 13 gathering at Camellia Elementary School in North Hollywood.

California’s push this school year to shrink K-3 class sizes from 29 students to 20 students has been tremendously popular. But some schools are cooling to the voluntary program because it siphons local funds from other areas. (“Class-Size Cuts in Calif. Bring Growing Pains,” April 30, 1997.)

Money, Surprises

Mr. Wilson’s plan would provide $800 for every student in the smaller classes--the same amount state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin has endorsed. The legislature still must sign off on the budget plan. Lawmakers have until June 30 to adopt a 1997-98 budget.

Mr. Wilson’s plan also would give schools more flexibility in using the money to lower class sizes and provide new options for facilities funding.

“This will allow most school districts to fully fund the program,” said Davis Campbell, the executive director of the California School Boards Association. “We’re just satisfied he’s doing this.”

But Mr. Wilson caught a lot of people off-guard by announcing that he also wants the state to spend $60 million to buy and administer standardized tests in grades 2-11.

Under Mr. Wilson’s proposal, the state school board would choose from existing standardized exams, which would then be mandatory for all California districts.

The move surprised some in the state because California is currently developing state academic standards, which would lead to accompanying tests.

“We didn’t think that he was going to opt for an off-the-shelf test,” said Tommye Hutto, a spokeswoman for the California Teachers Association. “That’s a little different and concerns us.”

But Mr. Campbell sees the proposal as a stopgap measure. “I think he’s saying that until the state develops and adopts an assessment, let’s just use a test that’s out there and get some baseline information.”

Mr. Wilson also proposed doubling state aid for school technology, to $100 million. In a related development, Mr. Wilson proposed adding $300 million in his revised budget for the child-care system.

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