Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday proposed nearly $3 billion in additional funds for all California K through 12 schools next fiscal year. He said public education in the state is struggling in part because 40 percent of students are mired in poverty and 20 percent are non-native English speakers.
All schools will get more money under his plan, but those that serve poor students and English learners stand to get extra funds. Quoting Aristotle, he said that treating unequals equally is not justice.
"Our future depends not on across-the-board funding," he said, "but in disproportionately funding those schools that have disproportionate challenges."
His finance department said districts with a lot of English learners and kids in poverty could double their funding for these students. That would be a great help to Murray Elementary in Azusa, where 90 percent of the district's students live at or below the federal poverty line and 30 percent are English language learners.
District superintendent Linda Kaminski said she gets about a quarter of the funding she needs to adequately help students whose first language isn’t English. She ticked off a long wish list of projects she could afford if she got more money.
"My students wouldn’t have textbooks that are 10 years old," she said. "My students would have tutors. My students would have extra support classes. They’d be able to go to summer school. I could have a preschool program for kids, so they come in with their language more highly developed."
A few miles west, Arcadia Unified doesn't have those problems. It recently built a $20 million performing arts center — paid for with a construction bond people in its district had voted for.
Nevertheless, Arcadia school superintendent Joel Shawn points out that his district endured cuts along with everyone else for six years. Helping public schools without the same bounty is fine, he said, but not at Arcadia’s expense.
"Certainly as a high-performing district in a district that doesn’t have as many English language learners or free and reduced (price) lunch students, we know that we will not receive as much money," he said. "But we’re certainly going to protect our interest to make sure we’re held harmless at a level that goes back to when we were funded at that base level in 2006."
Shawn said his district receives about $5,000 per student in state funding every year. Brown said Thursday that he wants to raise the base funding for all districts to $6,700 per student — about what they got in 2006. Much of that money will come from billions of dollars in state sales and income tax revenue from last November’s voter-approved Proposition 30.
"This is an aging society, it’s serious, and the inequality is growing," Brown said. "And we have to do everything we can to offset those global factors."
Now Brown has to convince the state legislature. Policymakers will consider increases to school funding along with the rest of the governor’s $98 billion budget proposal in the weeks ahead.