Education groups generally like Brown’s revised budget plan

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Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal increasing funding by billions for education from a record $115.3 billion budget plan for the next fiscal year drew mostly applause after it was unveiled on Thursday.

The positive reaction was mixed with disappointment from some lawmakers and education groups who hoped the governor would embrace their ideas for more funding in areas like child care and teacher training in the new learning standards known as the Common Core.

Funding for California K-12 public schools and community colleges is set to increase by $6 billion in the 2015- 2016 fiscal year under Brown's revision to his budget proposal first unveiled in January.

There was little question that education would be the largest beneficiaries of an improving economy and increasing state revenues. A California law guarantees that about 40 percent of the budget go to public education. 

Highlights of the governor's budget revision, sometimes called the May Revise, include:

• Agreement with University of California President Janet Napolitano to freeze tuition for two years in exchange for help to pay down the UC system's pension liability and a cap on pension benefits for new employees.

• A big slice to hire more public school teachers to reduce class sizes that ballooned when the state sharply cut education funding during recession.

• Funds to help the California State University increase its enrollment by 4,000 students, speed up graduations, and help more community college students transfer into the CSU system.

California teachers may also be in line for pay increases.

“Everybody says teachers don’t get paid much and this will help them get paid more and will help create programs and will fund programs that have been cut. There’s been a lot of cuts here,” Brown said.

The governor's office said the proposed increase for public schools translates into a 45 percent funding hike over the the last four years.

Reaction mostly positive

The budget plan drew largely compliments, although some disparaging words signal that more debate over education funding is just down the road.

“The Governor makes a good start with the May Revision. However, we have a long way to go before we restore the programs in education and social services we lost to a decade of budget cuts,” said California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt in a written statement.

Brown is also proposing $2.4 billion in one-time funds for public schools. He is leaving it up to school districts to decide whether to use the money to train teachers on the new Common Core learning standards or to pay for costs the state forced schools to carry out but didn’t pay for.

“We applaud the governor’s recognition that decisions on how to meet the needs of our students are best made at the local level and not in Sacramento. We support the governor’s plan to give discretion to school districts in investing one-time funding,” L.A. Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines said in a written statement.

One education think tank, however, criticized the governor for leaving it up to school districts to decide how to use those funds.

“Without additional funding dedicated exclusively to implementing new standards, California runs the risk of exacerbating the achievement gap, since some students will be left with teachers who are unprepared, materials that are inadequate, and classrooms without 21st century technology,” the advocacy group Education Trust-West said in a news release.

Some community colleges would enjoy a spending spree as more funds would allow campuses to open up additional classes following recession-era cuts. Brown’s budget plan includes $75 million in funds to hire more full-time community college faculty.

“Those funds, combined with the additional $141.7 million for increased operating expenses, will have a direct impact for students across California,” said Jonathan Lightman, the executive director of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges.

The governor also wants to give the 112-campus community college system $600 million to fund a “student success” initiative that provides students with more counseling and tutoring so they can earn their degrees quickly.

Settlement over UC tuition

The governor said the new budget proposal includes $436 million from a voter-approved debt fund to help the University of California reduce its ballooning pension obligations. In return, UC administrators agreed to suspend a planned 5 percent student tuition increase for two years.

The deal settles a highly public dispute between Brown, who opposed the tuition increases, and Napolitano, who argued the state's funding was inadequate to run the UC system.  They met in a two-person committee over several months to work out the compromise reflected in the budget plan.

The $158 million in new funding for the California State University would increase enrollment by 4,000 students. But those allocations aren’t enough for some higher education advocates who say that black and other students of color are being squeezed out of public higher education in California.

“When the CSU turned away 30,000 eligible applicants in 2013-14, and since 2009 has turned away over 139,000 eligible applicants, the funding in the Governor’s proposal for an additional 4,000 students is woefully inadequate,” said Michele Siqueiros, president of the Campaign for College Opportunity in a statement.

“The complete absence of enrollment growth funding for the UC is disturbing. Last year alone, 11,183 eligible students were denied admission to UC campuses to which they applied,” she said. 

There were signs as well that the budget plan will undergo hard bargaining when it is taken up in Sacramento, and it'll involve members of Brown's own party.

State Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins said she and her colleagues want the budget to help reduce poverty, restore funding for public education, and early childhood education, among other goals.

Because the governor did not include additional funding for expanding state-funded child care, Atkins suggested she’ll find a way to find the funding for it.

The political horse trading will take place through June 15, the legislature's budget approval deadline.

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