A seasoned education bureaucrat, Jack O’Connell, the former state head of public instruction, says this budget is unlike any he’s seen before.
“This budget contains more major policy initiatives in it than any that I’ve ever seen, and I've been working on state budgets since 1982," O'Connell said. "This is a budget that totally rewrites education school finance, so that we don’t have money going out the door based upon money for kids in schools at school districts, based upon some historical and traditional criteria."
He’s talking about Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to get rid of many programs that distribute money to districts based on certain criteria. Instead, the governor proposes giving money to districts based on a “weighted student formula” that takes factors in the types of students it serves – such as large numbers of English learners - and the cost of educating them.
This model would allow districts to spend the money with more freedoms, said H.D. Palmer, deputy director of the state’s finance department. He’s worked on fiscal issues since Pete Wilson was governor – and he recognizes how this budget reflects Brown’s priorities.
“It is an ambitious effort by this governor to implement reforms and changes that he believes are necessary both from a policy basis and a fiscal basis, to benefit K through 12 education in California,” Palmer said.
But O’Connell – now a consultant with an educational research company – calls the budget process an imperfect tool.
"So many of these initiatives and bills have been based and initiated to solve a problem, to address an issue," O'Connell said. "And to simply, through the budget process, try to eliminate funding for these programs, I don’t think is good sound public policy."
He says he’d prefer that as many people as possible influence education policy through contact with their elected officials.
The California Legislature has about three weeks until the deadline to pass a balanced budget. Brown’s proposal estimates a shortfall of about $16 billion - and relies on the passage of a November ballot measure to close that gap.
If voters reject that, the state could cut its support of public education by as much as $6 billion dollars.
For a Q&A with O'Connell check out the previous entry on Pass/Fail.