Tax the wealthy to fund schools

Most Californians are worried that additional cuts to public schools will hurt the quality of education, but they don’t have much faith in the Legislature to solve the problem. A new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) found that a majority of adults and likely voters support Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal for a special election to vote on extending a temporary tax in order to close the $26 billion budget gap.  However, most oppose a hike in the state sales tax or in personal income taxes – unless it’s aimed at the state’s wealthiest residents.

Support for the governor’s proposal has climbed slightly since last month, with 56% of likely voters saying they favor a special election, up from 51% in March. But the numbers vary significantly when broken down by party. Nearly three-quarters of Democrats – 72% – back the special election, versus 53% of Independents and 38% of Republicans.

PPIC interviewed 2,504 adults between April 5 and 19, 2011. They’ve been conducting this survey for seven years.

Parents say school conditions are worsening

An overwhelming majority of those surveyed said the quality of education will suffer if schools are forced to make more cuts. Public school parents are especially concerned, with 74% warning that schools cannot absorb any more cuts. Half the parents said education has already gotten worse in the past few years; nearly twice as many as when they were asked that question in 2007.

That came as a bit of a surprise to Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of PPIC, who said it indicates that the “state budget cuts have gone from being abstract to being noticeable to public school parents.” Specifically, parents are concerned about teacher layoffs, shortening the school year, eliminating art and music programs, and increasing class sizes.

Interestingly, most public school parents held positive views of their children’s schools. Half of them rated their schools with a B or better, a level that hasn’t changed in six years. However, there are deep differences by race and ethnicity. While a majority of Latinos, 59%, gave their kids’ schools a grade of B or A, 45% of Black parents said their schools only deserved a C.

Most people surveyed agreed that not all schools are equal. Sixty-five percent said they are “very concerned that students in lower-income areas have a shortage of good teachers compared to schools in wealthier areas,” and 79% said resources are not evenly distributed. In fact, two-thirds of the people interviewed said schools in lower-income communities should receive a larger share of money if more state funds become available.

Taxing the wealthy

A majority of voters wouldn’t mind if those funds came from additional taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents. Overall, 62% of likely voters would support raising the state income tax on the wealthy.

“That’s something we’ve consistently seen support for,” said Baldassare. “Most voters perceive what they’re being asked to pay in taxes is fair and reasonable, but wealthy people can afford to pay more.”

The support, however, is highly divided along party lines, with 82% of Democrats in favor of it and 60% of Republicans opposed.

The California Federation of Teachers (CFT) is already advocating for the tax hike, arguing that a 1% increase in the state tax rate on Californians earning $500,000 or more could raise $2.5 billion more for education. The cause has been taken up by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, who introduced AB 1130 in the Assembly earlier this year, although it’s as likely to pass as any other tax increase that requires Republican support.

Low marks for the legislature

The inability of state lawmakers to reach agreement on the budget has made them about as popular as Donald Trump would be at the President’s birthday party. Only 9% of likely voters approve of the way the legislature is handling public education.

Brown fares better, but only marginally. His job approval rating is at 40%; however, 31% are withholding judgment.

No wonder Californians don’t trust Sacramento to make decisions about school funding. When asked who should have the most control in deciding how state education funds are spent in public schools, a whopping 83% put their faith in local school districts.

“It’s always telling in terms of where people have their trust and confidence, and the flip side is where they don’t,” said Baldassare. “They don’t see a state government that is responsible and solutions-oriented right now.”

Time for Brown to hit the road

Gov. Jerry Brown is betting that the light he plans to shed on the state budget will produce some heat.

Brown will soon launch a don’t-make-me-do-it budget tour, hoping that speaking bluntly in public will help do what negotiating in private has failed to do so far: convince a few Republicans to let the people decide whether to extend temporary state taxes. Otherwise, he says he’ll give the Legislature an all-cuts budget, slashing spending by $26.6 billion, including the $11.2 billion cut so far.

His staff haven’t released his itinerary yet, but Brown said Tuesday he’ll be in Orange County on Saturday at a California Cadet Corps event. Another stop will be Riverside County, home of Senate Minority Leader Bob Dutton and of Bill Emmerson, one of five Republican senators Brown was negotiating with before the governor declared the talks futile and broke them off last week, ending plans to put tax extensions before voters in June.

Although Emmerson blamed Brown’s union allies for standing in the way of a deal over pension reform and a spending cap that could have won his vote, he was conciliatory in an op-ed Monday in the Riverside Press-Enterprise: “I’m disappointed the governor halted our negotiations and I know he is also,” he wrote. “I have only the highest regard for Brown and I know for a fact that he shares my belief that meaningful reforms will return California to its glory.”

Maybe Brown will return the compliment or maybe he’s hoping that blunt talk about an all-cuts budget will anger Emmerson’s constituents and prod him back to negotiations.

Brown auditioned his message Tuesday to the California Medical Association – an audience that doesn’t faint over talk of blood. And there will be no avoiding arteries if the state has to cut another $14 billion, so it’s time Brown got graphic about the details. But, at least with the docs, he remained upbeat about the prognosis: “Breakdowns,” he said, “do lead to breakthroughs. It’s just a matter of patience and a certain degree of creativity.”

To make it easier for Democrats to cast uncomfortable votes, Brown hasn’t talked at length about the effects of the painful cuts that Democrats have already passed – on community colleges and the universities and on children’s health care and day care. It’s now time to do that, too.

Brown won’t release his revised budget until May, but he needs to indicate clearly what he has in mind. Certainly, school districts and college students deserve to know.

Community colleges Chancellor Jack Scott said Tuesday that the colleges would turn away 400,000 students next year if a failure to extend taxes leads to predicted deep cuts.

Having taken disproportionately higher cuts the past three years, K-12 schools would be basically held harmless if $9 billion in temporary taxes are extended. But if not, they will face at least $2 billion less in funding, because a cut in total state revenue will lower the minimum Proposition 98 obligation to K-12 schools. The Legislative Analyst’s Office, assuming all state services would be reduced the same percentage and Prop 98 would be suspended, predicted that schools could lose as much as $4.5 billion – a drop of 9 percent and $755 per student, bringing the total cut in straight dollars since 2007-08 to 20 percent.

If that’s what he has in mind, Brown should say it, so parents will know what the impact might be, in terms of teachers laid off, programs eliminated, and perhaps the school year shortened. Then they  can tell (or yell at)  legislators what they think of that.

Brown was counting on persuading two Republicans each in the Assembly and Senate for the two-thirds majority needed to put the tax extensions on the June ballot. He is also counting on legislators to eliminate the state’s 400 redevelopment agencies, with an immediate savings of $1.7 billion that the governor would use next year to reimburse local governments for services that the state would push their way. Starting in year two, K-12 schools would see an extra $1 billion in revenue. But Brown doesn’t yet have the votes to eliminate redevelopment agencies, with some Democrats balking in the Senate.

Brown apparently had no Plan B, so it’s all improvising from here. The governor insists that he’ll keep his campaign promise to place any tax extension or new tax before voters. But that vote will be in September at the earliest, or November, which complicates things immensely. As of July 1, the temporary taxes expire, so we’re talking about passing new taxes, not extending existing taxes – a bigger challenge. Second, the Legislature would either have to pass an all-cuts budget, and then rescind some if the initiatives pass, or use gimmicks and borrowing to get the state through the first three or six months of the fiscal year – just what Brown promised not to do – until voters made the final decision.

Middle ground: six-month extension

Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg disagrees with putting tax extensions to a popular vote. The focus should be on passing the budget by July 1, with a two-thirds majority, he says.

So wouldn’t the middle ground be for the Legislature to pass a six-month tax extension, leading to the ballot question in November for a 3- or 5-year extension? That strikes me as reasonable.

But can Republicans who voted against putting tax extensions on the ballot be persuaded instead to extend the taxes themselves? Here are the arguments – OK, maybe it’s spin or fantasy – that I’ve heard over the past week as to why it’s possible:

  • Some Republicans won’t want to be blamed for the consequences of $26.6 billion in cuts that will wreck parks, schools and state services – not when they can claim credit for cutting a deal for regulatory reform, a spending cap, and pension reform in return.
  • Brown says he and Republicans were close on the issue of pensions; as proof, he made public some of his ideas, ticking off union leaders who claim they weren’t consulted. That’s at least a sign that Brown is willing to go further than some of his key supporters want.
  • Republican anti-tax jihadists, like Grover Norquist and the bilious Southern California radio duo of John and Ken, consider it treason just to meet with Brown, so there’s no sense trying to appease them. Just do the right thing and hope reasonable voters agree.
  • Republicans aren’t alone in feeling pressure; faced with the choice between making devastating cuts to education and social services and compromising on pension issues and constitutional limits on spending – all popular with voters, the polls say – Democrats should be willing to cut a deal.
  • The Californian Labor Federation is talking about launching radio ads and campaigns against select Republicans who might be vulnerable in 2012 because of redistricting and the new open primaries favoring moderate candidates. The billionaire right-wing Koch brothers, who have been funding radio ads to make sure Republicans toe the line, don’t own the airwaves.
  • Liberal and labor groups, such as the California Federation of Teachers, are threatening initiatives to raise the income tax on the richest 1 percent or on oil production. Business interests prefer extending the temporary extension of the less progressive broad-based car, sales, and general income taxes instead and will make that known to their Republican friends.

It’s all armchair speculation, of course; as of now, there are no Republican votes. Which is why Brown is ready to roll.

District heavyweights to Capitol

This year’s day of action organized by the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) comes barely 24 hours before the day of reckoning for thousands of teachers.

On Monday, superintendents and principals from across the state will meet with legislators to urge them to set aside political infighting and do what’s right for the state’s children.  The next day, March 15, upwards of 17,000  teachers will receive pink slips informing them that they may lose their jobs.

The big push, of course, will be persuading two Republicans in the state Senate and two in the Assembly to break with their party and support Gov. Brown’s plan to place the tax extension measure on the June ballot. The proposal needs a two-thirds vote in the Legislature, and until yesterday, Brown and Democratic leaders thought they’d have those votes this week.  But by late Thursday, that time line seemed to be unraveling.   “The word on the street is ‘No,’ ” said Julie White, ACSA’s assistant executive director, referring to a vote before week’s end.

Talks are ongoing between Brown and five GOP lawmakers who refused to sign a Republican pledge never to raise taxes, but also haven’t committed to supporting the 12 billion dollar tax extension.  The funds are critical to the Brown’s pledge to spare schools from any additional cuts.  Although lawmakers have been told to remain in Sacramento for the weekend in case a deal is reached, White seemed certain nothing would happen before next week.

John Snavely, superintendent of Porterville Unified School District in Tulare County, plans to be at the Capitol on Monday.  He says there is more urgency than ever before due to the sheer magnitude of potential cuts coming on top of $18 billion in cuts over the past three years.

“Accountability has never been higher, yet the financial support for meeting the ever increasing diverse needs of today’s students decreases,” said Snavely.  “Public education is one of the state’s primary responsibilities.  It is my goal to urge our lawmakers to recognize that obligation and protect our children.”

Support to kill redevelopment

Assembly Speaker John Perez and Sacramento insiders are saying that Gov. Jerry Brown now appears to have the votes in the Legislature to abolish redevelopment agencies, a plan that could  bring school districts an extra $1 billion a year, starting in July 2012, and then potentially a lot more over time.

Saying he has yet to see an alternative, Perez told a press luncheon Wednesday, “It’s a likelihood that we’ll see action to eliminate redevelopment agencies.” The proposal already had considerable support in the state Senate. Update: Democrats on a budget  conference committee of the Senate and Assembly  did kill redevelopment yesterday as part of the budget package they approved.

Extending temporary taxes and eliminating the state’s 389 redevelopment agencies, which siphon $5.7 billion in property taxes that would otherwise go to counties, cities, schools, and other state services, are essential to Brown’s plan to address a $26 billion budget deficit with a combination of cuts and revenue. He’s had to counter fierce opposition from big-city mayors, including Perez’s cousin, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and developers who have benefited from billions of dollars of construction projects funded by redevelopment agencies.

Brown has been able to win over Democrats with soft backing from the education community. More than 225 school boards have signed letters calling for the Legislature to put $12 billion in tax extensions and revenue measures on the June ballot, according to Rick Pratt, assistant executive director of the California School Boards Association. But few school boards – maybe only one, Santa Ana Unified – have taken an outspoken position on ending redevelopment agencies, said Stephen Rhoads, a lobbyist with Strategic Education Services in Sacramento who has led the effort on this issue.

Some school boards have wimped out, backing away from taking on city councils and mayors, while at least one big district, San Diego Unified, has been doing a side deal while staying mum. Facing an estimated $120 million deficit, the president of San Diego Unified has asked the city to advance $64 million in future redevelopment funds.

Other school officials have been conflicted, recognizing the economic benefits of redevelopment, or have had trouble grasping how schools would benefit both short- and long-term. And no wonder: Redevelopment inner workings are abstruse, and agencies have been adept in hiding numbers. Plus, some school districts have worked out their own revenue agreements with local RDAs over the years and are worried about what would happen to the money, Pratt said.

But the California Teachers Association and other employee unions backed Brown, and two weeks ago its partners in the Education Coalition – the school boards association, the state PTA, and the Association of California School Administrators – signed a joint letter supporting Brown and “changes to law that will reduce drains on the state’s finances.” Since then they have been working the halls of the Legislature, Rhoads said. Helping their cause has been disclosures that redevelopment projects haven’t generated jobs that agencies have claimed or built low-income housing they’re legally bound to construct, and that they have subsidized high-paying city jobs and have expanded into areas that were never blighted.

How much money will end up in the state general fund is unclear. City councils in San Diego, San Jose, Los Angeles, and other places have rushed to approve projects that would commit unbonded money that Brown has banked on. On Thursday, the president of the League of California Cities called Brown’s plan unconstitutional and vowed to go to court to stop it.

Redevelopment agencies – nearly every city bigger than 50,000 has one – underwrite infrastructure improvements and commercial and residential projects, from stadiums to shopping centers. They then keep the additional property taxes that the new projects generate – money that otherwise would go to counties, cities, and schools. In 1988-89, redevelopment districts captured $1 billion in property tax revenue. By 2008-09, that had mushroomed to $5.7 billion (see graph).

Property tax revenues funding redevelopment agencies have grown from $1 billion in 1988-89 to $5.7 billion (courtesy of Stephen Rhoads).
Property tax revenues funding redevelopment agencies have grown from $1 billion in 1988-89 to $5.7 billion (courtesy of Stephen Rhoads).

School districts don’t lose their share of the money per se. Unlike money diverted from counties, special districts, and – to a smaller extent – cities, the state is obligated to backfill money lost to school districts because of redevelopment : $3.2 billion in 2008-09. This money would otherwise have supplemented the general fund, for social services, higher education, and K-12 schools. Many legislators had no idea the loss to the state was this big.

Ending redevelopment agencies won’t immediately free up $5.7 billion, however, because $2 billion is committed to pay off bonds for projects that have been or are being built, and redevelopment agencies have existing agreements passing along $1 billion in property taxes to schools and local governments. That leaves $1.7 billion that Brown is counting on to help balance next year’s budget.

For one year, Brown would spend all of the money on Medi-Cal and trial courts. But starting in 2012-2013, school districts and community colleges would get 57 percent of the money – $900 million for K-12 schools or about $160 per child. (The amount would vary from county to county, depending on the size of the redevelopment agencies.) And this revenue would grow as properties increased in value.

Under Brown’s proposal, this would be additional revenue for schools beyond Proposition 98. Over the next 20 years, as redevelopment debt declines, freeing up property tax revenue, schools would get even more money. In an earlier post, I projected the impact of this in Santa Clara County, on the assumption that only those school districts fortunate enough to have redevelopment projects in their boundaries would reap the benefits. However, there is a more equitable alternative: to divvy up the new revenue per student equally to all districts within a county. Those, like Rhoads, who have seen the latest draft language (I have not) say this is the way that the Brown administration is leaning.

Before there’s a brawl over that money, the Legislature has to side with Brown and abolish the agencies.

Seeing silver lining in Robles-Wong

A Superior Court ruling narrowing the scope of two suits challenging the state’s system of funding education is distressing to those favoring more money for California schools. But while disappointed, lawyers for the cases say they’re not despondent – or ready to give in.

Three factors are giving them hope, as they plot strategy over the next few weeks: Serrano, Proposition 8, and Judge Steven Brick’s ambiguity.

Serrano. That’s the name of the landmark court case that found funding schools largely through property taxes to be unconstitutional because of huge revenue disparities it created among districts. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Steven Brick cited the case in his ruling this month, though in ways in which attorneys for the two funding cases – Robles-Wong v California and Campaign for Quality Education v California – disagreed.

But the point is that the trial judge in the original Serrano lawsuit 35 years ago threw that case out, too. The state Supreme Court overturned the ruling, let the case move forward, and the rest is history.

Brick hasn’t thrown out the two cases, though he has rejected the thrust of the arguments – that the state Constitution’s imperative, in Article IX, to establish public schools, also requires that the Legislature fund education adequately. Now lawyers have until Feb. 14 to decide whether to recraft their lawsuit in a way that Brick may accept or, perhaps eventually, to appeal the original claims with the hope that this Supreme Court would be open to overruling a trial judge, too.

Proposition 8. The substance of the state’s gay marriage ban isn’t directly related to the education lawsuits, but plaintiffs’ lawyers are heartened by the state’s response to it. After a federal district judge declared last summer that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, Gov. Schwarzenegger and then-Attorney General Jerry Brown refused to appeal; they said they agreed with the decision.

Schwarzenegger and Brown opposed the funding suits brought by the Education Coalition, Public Advocates, and other attorneys representing disadvantaged kids. And so far they have won. But Brown is now governor, and Kamala Harris is the new AG. Would they actively fight a narrower lawsuit, one that addresses the big swings in funding levels under Proposition 98, the inequities in funding formulas that have built up over the last 25 years, and the failure to address the academic needs of low-income children and English learners? Might they start negotiating, as Schwarzenegger did in the Williams case, a slimmed down Robles-Wong that the state settled in 2004?

There’s been no indication that they would welcome a settlement, but it’s been 10 days, and neither Harris’s office nor Brown’s has uttered a word about Brick’s ruling. Good omen or just evidence that they’re focused on more immediate problems?

Brick’s ambiguity. Brick was clear about what he didn’t want: to be drawn into a protracted adequacy funding case, like those that have persisted for years, sometimes decades, in other states. But Brick was vague, no doubt intentionally, about what issues he might permit to go to trial. He concluded that Constitution doesn’t require any particular level of education funding – no matter how devastating the impact of minimal funding. However, he implied that there may be an equity claim – that the state’s system of funding is irrationally or inequitably funded.

The lawyers for Robles-Wong and Campaign for Quality Education argued that the Legislature has approved rigorous state academic standards but has not calculated the costs of sufficiently funding them. Brick implied there may be grounds for trying the claim that all students lack an equal opportunity to learn them.

The question is, How broad a scope would Brick allow? If it’s limited to arguments over efficiency – how best to shift already skimpy education funding around – or over money redistribution – pitting rich against poor districts – then the coalition behind the suits (the PTA, California School Board Assn., California teachers and administrators associations) might fracture. But if Brick  were to  allow a claim that state funding and the Education Code put low-income children and English learners at a disadvantage, then the case becomes bigger.

Mike Kirst, Brown’s campaign adviser and now his State Board president, has recommended redirecting money from earmarked special programs, known as categorical programs, as a weighted funding formula with extra money for disadvantaged students. But it might take significantly more funding to do this in a way that would at least guarantee that all districts wouldn’t lose any money.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers might relish a chance to force the Legislature to make that choice. They have three weeks to state their case in a way that Brick might find palatable.

Kirst: State Board critics off-base

State Board of Education President Michael Kirst says he and his new colleagues on the Board already have gotten a bad rap. According to Kirst, defenders of the seven Board members whom Gov. Jerry Brown didn’t reappoint have dismissed new members as opponents of education reform and ready to launch a “war on charter schools.” Both assumptions aren’t true, he says.

Critics, he said in an interview in Sacramento after his first Board meeting this week, are defining reform in terms of a “specific set of interventions.” (He doesn’t cite the parent-trigger law, but that’s obviously one.) Those, he said, don’t involve all of the state’s children. He wants to affect the 6.2 million K-12 students and 330,000 teachers. Kirst worked with Brown on the governor’s education platform. That document put teacher and principal training as a priority, along with taking a hard look at the state’s standardized tests.

Kirst indicated the Board would view policies in light of declining revenues for education. They might consider decentralizing regulatory  functions in Sacramento, shifting them to county offices, giving districts more autonomy, and streamlining layers of accountability.

As for charter schools, Kirst said, “I support  charter public schools; I have for years. I know other Board members have. The fact that we’re not (making) charter schools major and sole focus, as some people want us to be, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to see charters as a vital and innovative part of California’s education future.”

To view the full interview, go here.

Jerry Brown stops by to address Board

Brown, who started two charter schools in Oakland, has characterized himself as a “reformed reformer” – a term he used again Thursday when he stopped by the Board’s information session to speak to the seven new members he appointed.

“I am a little wary of reform sometimes,” Brown said in off-the-cuff comments that you can see here. “Everything that people propose they call it reform. Some change is good, and some change in not thought out. I don’t expect a silver bullet. I see a lot of fashion in education.”

Brown, who is asking voters to extend $8 billion in temporary taxes to avoid cutting K-12 budgets, said he learned a lesson starting and sustaining the Oakland Military Institute and the Oakland School for the Arts. “I really do get the idea that money is very important. I don’t know how we would get through if we (the charter schools) didn’t raise the millions of dollars that we do,” he said.

Brown has called for a hard look at whether accountability – too much attention to standardized tests and data – has led to a narrowing of the curriculum, with less attention to arts, social sciences, and his own priority, character formation.

He expressed ambivalence in his remarks to the Board. On the one hand, he says he keeps hammering the military charter school, with its 735 API, to reach the state target of 800. And he used standardized test results to question why teachers were giving A’s to students who were “below basic” on state tests.

At the same time, he said, teachers’ impacts on students are intangible and critical. Love of learning cannot be measured by just mastering a test. “The role of a teacher and the relationship with students is more than something that can be rationalized into various data streams.”

Data, standards and curriculum are all important, Brown said, but “I hope we can keep the humanistic aspect of education as well as the market concepts of readiness to go into the world of work and readiness to go onto higher education.”

These are words many teachers have been waiting to hear.

Voters willing, K-12 to get its full due

Saying that K-12 education had borne the brunt of past years’ cuts, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a state budget that spares schools from cuts in state aid next year. Community college students and especially families relying on state-funded child care would be hit hard, however, and K-12 schools could face huge cuts if voters fail to extend $8.8 billion in temporary taxes for five more years. The budget would also fall apart if the Legislature rejects Brown’s plan to eliminate local Redevelopment Agencies – a centerpiece of the plan to wipe out an 18-month, $25.4 billion deficit (the latest estimate, down $3 billion). Doing so would shift $1.7 billion in property taxes to schools and local governments that have been diverted to the agencies.

Brown wants to put the tax package – a 1 percent sales tax surcharge, a 0.5 percent increase in the vehicle license fee, a quarter percent increase in the state income tax – on the ballot in June. But first he’ll need a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to authorize it, and on Monday Republican leaders were saying no way; Brown will need a few Republicans to cross over to join Democrats.

Total K-12 spending would still decline, by $2.6 billion, to $63.8 billion, because of the end of federal Edujobs and stimulus money. While basically flat, state revenue through Proposition 98, a combination of General Fund revenue and property taxes, would decline slightly, by $400 million, to $49.3 billion, because of cuts to child care funded through Prop 98.

The state would not fund a projected 1.67 percent cost of living adjustment; instead, $967 million would be added to the $10 billion that the state owes districts for shorting its Prop 98 obligation in past years.

Sacramento observers had predicted that Brown would ask the Legislature to pass a budget in the next 60 days, assuming the $8.8 billion in tax extensions, and then lay out big cuts to K-12 schools if voters said no. But Brown said at a press conference Monday that he could then be accused of “putting guns to the heads” of voters, so he is not saying where cuts would come from. But without that extra money, the Prop 98 minimum funding would fall by $2.3 billion, so K-12 cuts would be out at least that much.

Brown is not proposing midyear K-12 cuts. Total per-student spending from all sources next year would be $10,703 per student, down from $11,154 this year.

Total Prop 98 per-student spending would be $7,344, down $14 from $7,358 this year.

Deferrals: Brown is proposing to delay paying an additional $2.2 billion owed to K-12 schools and community collages next year into sometime the following fiscal year. Deferrals would now total about $10 billion, or nearly a third of the state’s Proposition 98 obligation, creating higher interest payments to cover the state IOUs and potentially creating cash flow problems for districts that have difficulty borrowing.

Categorical spending: Contrary to predictions, Brown is not proposing to give districts more flexibility to spend some of the remaining $10 billion in restricted expenditures known as categorical programs however they want. However, he is asking the Legislature to give districts control for an additional two years, beyond 2012-13, over those categorical programs whose restrictions were lifted two years ago.
Brown really had no choice. Forcing districts to return to 20:1 student-teacher ratios under the class-size reduction program, a large categorical, would force many districts into bankruptcy.

CALPADS: Last fall, Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed money for the Department of Education to continue operating the statewide data system past early December, leading to predictions by Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell that the system would collapse, throwing the state’s ability to meet deadlines for supplying data to the federal government in jeopardy. Well, that hasn’t happened yet. Brown wants to set up a working group that will work through oversight issues and decide what must get done in coming months.

Community colleges: Two months ago, the chancellors and trustees of community colleges agreed in principle to support fee increases tied to inflation, as long as additional revenues were plowed back into the system, not the state’s general fund.

Brown is proposing instead a 6.9 percent, $432 million cut, to $5.8 billion, while raising fees 38 percent, from $26 to $36 per credit.

Brown argues that half of the students would qualify to have their fees waived and that at $1,080 in fees for a full course load, students would still pay a third of what comparable community colleges nationwide charge.

He also argues that the $432 million cut reflects truer costs, since one sixth of students quit courses they enroll in, and the state reimburses colleges based on course enrollments early in the quarter. Brown wants to move toward an incentive system in which the state rewards colleges with high success rates in transfers to 4-year universities, associate’s degrees, and certificate completion.

Children’s services: A big piece of the $12.5 billion in cuts that Brown is proposing would affect low-income children. Brown has proposed a 25 percent cut – $1.5 billion – to CalWORKS, which provides cash assistance to 1.1 million  low-income children whose parents are looking for work. The number of families receiving it would drop from 580,000 to 458,000. Brown would cut $750 million in child care funded by Prop 98 by eliminating  child care assistance for 11- and 12-year-olds and reducing eligibility from 75 percent of state median income to 60 percent ($36,000 cutoff for a family of three).

California’s social services would still hold up well compared with many states, Brown said, though not so well when compared with most European nations. “It depends on what yardstick you use,” he said.

Brown scuttles education secretary

Gov. Schwarzenegger had a succession of six secretaries of education. Gov. Jerry Brown will have none. Brown made it official Friday: The office of the secretary, with its dozen employees, is toast.

Brown, who didn’t have a secretary of education the first time around, might have eliminated the office regardless of the budget crisis. There’s already confusion over authority among a State Board of Education, the governor, and an independently elected superintendent of public instruction. The education secretary had no constitutional authority. Closing down the shop makes Brown’s point that he’ll scale back state government.

But the elimination of the office raises the question of who will speak for the governor on education matters. It could be Michael Kirst, who will be elected president of the State Board next week. But Kirst, an emeritus education professor at Stanford who helped Brown write his education campaign platform and is his closest education adviser, will only be working half-time in Sacramento. While Brown may rely on Kirst to speak out on the deep-think issues, he’ll still need an education adviser on the nitty-gritty stuff, such as education legislation.

For your next round of  Arnold trivia, the six secretaries of  education were former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, Alan Bersin, David Long, Glen Thomas, acting-secretary Scott Himelstein, and long-time Schwarzenegger aide Bonnie Reiss.

Nominating Honig to State Board of Education is risky but worthy

Jerry Brown had no sooner nominated former California Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig to the state Board of Education this week than the ugly part of the Honig story crept back into the news: In 1993, Honig, possibly the most influential school leader in California’s history, was convicted on a felony conflict of interest charge and forced to resign. Three years later the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor, which now again makes him eligible to hold public office. But it may again haunt him –and haunt Brown for naming him.

The details of the old charges are too long to lay out in detail in this piece. In essence the hard-driving Honig was accused of steering some school district consulting contracts for parent training to his wife Nancy’s nonprofit Quality Education Project, which was headquartered in their San Francisco home.

It was a reckless thing to do, as some of Honig’s friends told him even then, but Honig was so certain that the services the QEP provided were the best thing for the schools that got them that the warnings were ignored.

The felony charge always smacked of a political witch hunt. Honig, a Democrat, never made a cent from the deal, and neither did QEP, whose funding all came from foundations. No tax money was ever involved. But as superintendent for more than a decade he had made a broad array of enemies, from the two Republican governors he accused of shortchanging the schools to the then-still-powerful creationists he rebuffed in the writing of curricula and the choice of textbooks.

Instead of bringing felony charges, Dan Lungren, the Republican attorney general who prosecuted Honig, could have charged him with a misdemeanor from the start, which would not have required removal from office. As Honig’s lawyers argued, there was never any evidence that Honig intended to profit from the deal. Lungren, who ran for governor in 1998, and lost, is now a member of Congress from the Sacramento suburbs.

The judge at the trial, who had made some questionable evidentiary rulings against Honig  – Honig’s state of mind, he ruled, was not an issue –  had changed his party registration from Democrat to Republican and was himself seeking appointment to a higher court in a Republican administration. Ironically, the judge was also a Jerry Brown appointee.

Honig was also a key figure in the campaign in 1988 to pass Proposition 98, the minimum school funding formula that has vexed governors ever since. It came as a direct response to Gov. George Deukmejian’s decision in 1987 to refund $1 billion-plus to the taxpayers because, Deukmejian argued, the state had hit its legal spending limit. That refund hit the schools especially hard.

In 1991, after a series of ugly turf fights with Honig, the conservatives that Deukmejian and his successor Pete Wilson had put on the Board filed a lawsuit that eventually led to an appellate court decision trimming Honig’s policy-making and appointing authority.

The Board, which had the constitutional authority for state education policy, had almost certainly been neglected by Honig, but the decision did little to clear up the convoluted arrangement in which the independently elected superintendent is supposed to carry out the policies of a group of gubernatorial appointees.

But for all the battles Honig waged and the errors he made, some of which he himself later acknowledged, Honig may have done more to raise California’s education standards than any single individual since.

Honig, as a member of the State Board (to which Brown named him during his prior years as governor) and then as superintendent after his election in 1982, was among the first to sound the alarm about the flabbiness of California’s curricula and testing program – and did so well before school reform and the imposition of tougher standards became the national issues they’ve been for most of the past three decades.

Before his conviction and removal from office in 1993, some people thought he might make a strong candidate for governor. That was always a near-impossibility, though it might have worried a few Republicans at the time.  But Honig was a great national force for more rigorous academic standards and less fluff in school curricula.

Jerry Brown’s decision to appoint Honig again is obviously risky, both for him and for Honig – “something old, something new,” he said when he mentioned it in a private conversation on inauguration day. But in terms of experience, brains, and promise for better schools, he could hardly have picked a better person, old or new.

Peter Schrag is the former editorial page editor and columnist of the Sacramento Bee. He is the author of “Paradise Lost: California’s Experience, America’s Future” and “California: America’s High Stakes Experiment.” His latest book is “Not Fit for Our Society: Immigration and Nativism in America” (University of California Press). He is a frequent contributor to the California Progress Report and is a member of the TOP-Ed advisory board.

Brown names seven to State Board

Three decades after naming Michael Kirst and Bill Honig to the State Board of Education, Gov. Jerry Brown has turned to them again. Now, like Brown, in their early 70s, they will lead a new majority on the Board that he appointed Wednesday.

Brown moved with unusual speed in replacing five holdover State Board members, including President and fellow Democrat Ted Mitchell, and in appointing two others to replace two Board members whose terms expire Jan. 15. The appointments send a strong signal that Brown wants an experienced, less activist Board that will immediately focus on his priorities.

Five new Board members, all Democrats: Kirst; Honig, a controversial former three-term state Superintendent of Public Instruction; former Long Beach and San Diego Superintendent Carl Cohn; California Teachers Association lobbyist Patricia Ann Rucker; and James Ramos, the chairman for the San Manuel Band of Indians, ­are expected to be seated at next week’s Board meeting. Kirst, a Stanford education professor emeritus and Brown’s campaign adviser on education, is expected to become Board president. He held that post while serving for seven years, 1975-’82, under Brown’s earlier administration.

The appointments particularly of Rucker and Aida Molina, executive director on Academic Improvement and Accountability for Bakersfield City School District, should please the CTA and the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), traditional education organizations that had criticized the lack of practical knowledge and classroom experience of the charter-school-friendly Board members whom Gov. Schwarzenegger had appointed, and had opposed the reforms that they initiated.

Sure enough, Ben Austin, the number one target for ouster by the Ed Coalition, did not go silently. “Unfortunately, in the Governor’s first full day in office, he chose to stand with the state’s most powerful interest group that spent millions to elect him, rather than the parents and children of California,” he said, referring to the state’s two teachers unions, in a statement Wednesday.

Austin is executive director of Parent Revolution, a nonprofit group that has been pushing the “parent trigger,” a mechanism adopted by the Legislature last year that permits a majority of parents at a school to demand a takeover by a charter school or other dramatic reforms. Knowing that Brown could replace most of them, the Board had hurried the parent trigger regulations along. I wouldn’t be surprised if the new Board takes a longer look and puts off their adoption next week.

Strong, independent voices

The appointments of Rucker and Ramos, a community college trustee but the only appointee without a strong background in education, smack of campaign payoffs to groups that had helped Brown get elected. It‘s also true, however, that before Schwarzenegger, CTA and ACSA traditionally had representatives on the 11-member Board.

But in Honig, Kirst, Cohn, and Trish Williams, the seventh appointee, Brown has turned to independent-minded experts with impressive resumes. “It’s a strong board,” said Bill Lucia, CEO of the pro-charter school and education reform nonprofit EdVoice. “Brown has dug deep and wide to find talent pool with professional experience he believes is a good mix to get his priorities done.”

Williams has been executive director since 1992 of the nonprofit organization EdSource, which is respected for credible, thorough research. A professor emeritus in education and business administration, Kirst is respected for his research and his focus on practical public policy. Lately he has been concentrating on ways to better connect high school courses with college expectations. That’s a complex subject the State Board will become immersed as it approves new textbooks and assessments related to the newly adopted Common Core standards.

Cohn is credited with transforming Long Beach Unified into a model urban district as superintendent from 1992-2002. He ran into difficulties in embattled San Diego Unified, as superintendent for three years after the departure of Alan Bersin. For the past two years, he has been a co-director of the Urban Leadership Program at Claremont Graduate University.

The most powerful and arguably knowledgeable figure in California education in the ’80s, Honig has been out of the public eye for nearly two decades. A law school buddy of Brown from San Francisco, Honig served on the State Board before being elected State Superintendent in 1982. He led the movement for standards-based education before the report Nation at Risk drew national attention to it, and pushed hard for more money and the eventual passage of Prop 98 at a time that Gov. Deukmejian was cutting school funding, earning him the ire of Republicans. But he was forced to resign in 1993 after his conviction on four counts of participating in state contracts in which he had a financial interest. An appeals court later reduced the felonies to misdemeanors and cut the restitution payments by 80 percent.

Honig also will have expertise in the content and standards areas that the State Board will oversee in the next few years.  Asked about his appointment on Wednesday, Brown told Los Angeles Times reporter Shane Goldmacher, “Honig has the knowledge and skill to be quite valuable, and it would be a shame to waste that. … I don’t think people discriminate against people who perform well for the state and people who run into problems and make amends. That’s the way it should be considered.”

Honig would serve on a State Board that has more power than when he served on it. That’s because, he lost a suit brought against him while Superintendent clarifying that, under the state Constitution, the Board, not the Superintendent, is responsible for setting education policy.

Board members serve four-year terms, although unconfirmed nominees can serve for as long as a year – the status of five of the past board members. Confirmation requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate, which could prove a challenge for Rucker, who can expect Republican opposition, and, unfortunately, perhaps for Honig. The four Board members appointed by Schwarzenegger whose terms don’t expire are Gregory Jones, a retired executive of State Farm Insurance; James Aschwanden, executive director of the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association; Yvonne Chan, founder and principal of  Vaughn Next Century Learning Center, a charter school in Los Angeles; and Connor Cushman, a student member from Coto de Caza.