Brown vows 'battle of their lives' for school funding critics

5:43 PM, Apr 24, 2013   |    comments
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Gov. Jerry Brown laid down a large political marker Wednesday, vowing to do whatever it takes to get the Legislature to approve his plan for shifting more education dollars to school districts that serve low-income students and English learners.

"Kids can't wait," said Brown in a news conference at the Capitol. "California can't wait."

MORE: Funding for school districts in California

The governor summoned a group of supportive superintendents from some of the state's largest school districts to his office, and brought them on stage to speak to reporters after the private meeting.  His media blitz came on the same day as the Assembly's education committee began a series of hearings on the plan, and one day before Senate Democrats were set to unveil a reworking of the proposal.

Brown rejected the idea of the Senate plan, which would remove a provision to send additional dollars to school districts with high concentrations of poor and English learning students.

"I will fight any effort to dilute this bill," the governor said.

The proposal, a complex series of funding shifts and elimination of state mandates on spending, has found the roughest sledding among Brown's traditional political allies.

"The easiest thing to do for a politician," said Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, "is to have these sound bites and talk about issues at this [high] level.  The hard thing to do is to get the policy right."

Buchanan, who chairs the Assembly's education committee, says the governor's intent is correct, but the details need work.  She, and education interest groups, have called for a delay in implementation of the governor's plan until funds are restored from the past few years of budget cuts.

But the governor and his supporters among the ranks of superintendents say time is of the essence.

"The arguments that are used, that now is not the time," said Sacramento Unified Superintendent Jonathan Raymond, "in the best case, it's immoral, and in the worst case, it's criminal."

The governor's plan promises more money to all of the more than 2,000 school districts in California.  But it would reduce the expected funding increases for districts that don't have as many low-income and language learner students -- sending that money, instead, to the districts that do have those students.

"This is not an ordinary legislative measure," said the governor. "This is a cause."

A recent statewide poll suggests the governor is tapped into a popular public sentiment.  The nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found 71 percent of adults surveyed support the idea of shifting education dollars to disadvantaged students.

But the politics under the state Capitol dome don't always hew to the larger forces.  And the governor's animated nature in his news conference made it clear that he knows it won't be an easy victory.

"They're going to get the battle of their lives," bellowed Brown in referring to critics of his plan.  "Because I'm not going to give up until the last hour."


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