Charters choose Brown’s tax plan

Charter schools and the state’s largest teachers union rarely find anything to agree about. But the California Charter Schools Assn. is now the second major education group, next to the California Teachers Assn., to endorse Gov. Jerry Brown’s $7 billion tax initiative. The 13-member board of CCSA, representing most of the 982 charter schools in the state, voted unanimously to support it last week, said Jed Wallace, CEO of the charter schools association.

Brown has been leaning on political leaders to exclusively back his tax plan in order to put the squeeze on sponsors of two competing tax initiatives gathering signatures and make them drop out. But Brown didn’t call him, and he didn’t need to, said Wallace. “The governor’s is the one initiative that attempts to put the states’ broader fiscal house in order while providing some resources to education,” he said Sunday.

Then there’s the not insignificant factor that charter schools know they can count on the support of Brown, who started two charter schools in Oakland. The other two competing initiatives – “Our Children, Our Future,” sponsored by the PTA and wealthy civil rights attorney Molly Munger, and the Millionaires Tax of 2012, by the CTA’s little sibling, the California Federation of Teachers, with backing by the California Nurses Assn. – would dedicate more money for schools. Brown’s half-cent sales tax increase and quarter of 1 percent increase in the graduated income tax would produce money for the General Fund, with about 40 percent going to community colleges and K-12 schools through Propositon 98. But, through a weighted student formula, Brown is also proposing to make funding more equitable and simpler, a long-sought goal of charter schools.

A recent report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office calculated that charters receive on average $395, or 7 percent less funding per student than district schools, and that doesn’t take into consideration extra facilities costs that many charters face. Most of the difference is in smaller categorical grants, and the difference is larger for new charters. Nearly all categorical funds would gradually disappear under a weighted formula, to be redistributed to districts based on the number and concentration of low-income and English-learning students they serve.

At a forum last week at CCSA’s annual convention, State Board of Education President Michael Kirst estimated that nearly all charter schools would fare better under Brown’s formula. Also last week, Brown attended a rally for charter funding equity at the state Capitol.

Brown is proposing to raise the sales tax by a half cent for four years and the income tax on those earning more than $250,000 for five years. Brown would commit most of the education money to pay down $10 billion in deferrals, money owed to schools that the state pays in the next fiscal year. Deferrals have especially affected charters, many of which have to borrow the money owed by the state at higher short-term interest rates than district schools pay.

Nearly all charter schools are nonprofit organizations, with restrictions on involvement in political elections. But they can provide information to parents on the impact of the various initiatives on their schools, Wallace said.

Neither the California School Boards Association nor the Association of California School Administrators has yet taken a position on which initiative to support. Of the other members of the Education Coalition, the teachers unions are split, and the state PTA is backing Munger’s $10 billion increase in the income tax.

Author: John Fensterwald - Educated Guess

John Fensterwald, a journalist at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, edits and co-writes "Thoughts on Public Education in California" (www.TOPed.org), one of the leading sources of California education policy reporting and opinion, which he founded in 2009. For 11 years before that, John wrote editorials for the Mercury News in San Jose, with a focus on education. He worked as a reporter, news editor and opinion editor for three newspapers in New Hampshire for two decades before receiving a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 1997 and heading West shortly thereafter. His wife is an elementary school teacher and his daughter attends the University California at Davis.

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