Gov. Jerry Brown: Change to categorical funding could mean more money for schools with low-income students

5:07 PM, Jan 2, 2013   |    comments
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SACRAMENTO, CA - In a bid to give districts more local control and boost funding for schools with low-income and non-English speaking students, Gov. Brown plans to dramatically change, maybe even eliminate, what's called "categorical funding."

Categorical funding is super-restricted money the state gives to schools that must be spent on certain programs, like adult education and smaller class sizes.The fund covers 56 categories in all, costing nearly $12 billion a year.

"The analogy is if you buy a pencil with money out of one program, you better not be catching a kid using it in another program," Education Finance Adviser Kevin Gordon said.

Under new formulas, Gordon said California public schools would get the same per-pupil funding and would only get more if there are a large number of kids in poverty and/or students who don't speak English.

Some studies show it is more expensive to educate those groups, but it'll come at the expense of more affluent areas to pay for it.

"Typically, the thinking is that urban districts are going to be the ones that win big under this," Gordon said.

However, critics said while the goal of giving more money to needy students is good, telling school districts they don't have to spend money on certain programs could lead to no program at all.

To ease budget cuts over the last few years, the state lifted restrictions on a couple of categorical funds. Consequently, Adult Education was eliminated in a number of campuses and money to limit class size in younger grades was spent elsewhere, leading to crowded classrooms up and down the state.

"The state has an interest and has an obligation to make sure that school districts are making the best decisions possible and that means having categoricals in place," California Federation of Teachers spokesperson Monica Henestroza said.

"That's the real challenge," Gordon said. "Do you really believe in local control and let local school boards make that decision or not? Do you trust them to do the right thing?"

Much of Brown's plan is expected to be unveiled next week when he releases his budget proposal for next year. It'll have an easier time passing as a budget bill compared to the Legislative process.

By Nannette Miranda, ABC7


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