Peering into the crystal ball: The top issues in 2019
The stage is set: A new Governor, legislative supermajority and State Superintendent of Public Instruction will bring about both opportunities and challenges for governing boards.
The Third General Session, as is tradition, focused on addressing the “State of the State” to close out CBSA’s Annual Education Conference in San Francisco. Members of the expert panel, moderated by CSBA CEO and Executive Director Vernon M. Billy, shared their views on critical K-12 education issues such as Proposition 98 funding, charter school accountability, financial forecasts and other pressing subjects.
Proposition 98 and funding shortfalls
With local educational agencies already financially stretched due to Prop. 98 continually being treated as a funding floor rather than a ceiling, Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach) said Prop. 98 must be protected, if not expanded, as other efforts and bills may try to draw dollars away. Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom campaigned on being a champion for early education and preschool, and a new-look Legislature may also pursue Prop. 98 funds for issues they want to promote and address.

“I’m a big fan of early childhood education, I don’t think anybody isn’t, but the question is where is the money to come from,” said O’Donnell, the chairman of the Assembly Education Committee. “We are not going to raid Proposition 98 dollars.”

Increasing the base revenue for K-12 schools is imperative, Association of California School Administrators Executive Director Wes Smith said. “There is this narrative that Gov. [Jerry] Brown fixed it,” Smith said of K-12 funding, agreeing with O’Donnell that board members must play a key role in educating legislators about their struggles and need for additional Local Control Funding Formula money, just as CSBA and its allies do.

Some Assemblymembers and Senators must be made to realize that the current base funding is inadequate and that cost-of-living increases to Prop. 98 are the bare minimum and nothing to celebrate, said Kevin Gordon, president and partner of Capitol Advisors LLC. “They’ll do the COLA, the question is will they get something into the base LCFF beyond what it takes to just stay even with inflation, and that’s going to be the challenge this year,” he said.

Going further, School Services of California Inc. President and CEO John Gray offered a warning about the current K-12 funding model’s “maintenance mode.” “If we’re on a COLA-only model, with all the pension costs and all the other increased costs, I think we’re going to be doomed,” he said.

Charter school accountability emerges as key issue
In addition to lackluster base funding for districts, panelists said charter schools can negatively impact districts financially by accelerating enrollment decreases. The state’s 1992 charter school law is overdue for a new look, they said, largely to ensure accountability for the money they receive. CSBA this year published Uncharted Waters: Recommendations for Prioritizing Student Achievement and Effective Governance in California’s Charter Schools, the final report of CSBA’s Charter School Task Force, which looked at many of these key issues.

“I don’t think anyone’s trying to erase them off the face of the Earth, but the fact of the matter is they need to be just as accountable with public dollars as a standard K-12 school,” O’Donnell said.

In her studies, Learning Policy Institute President and CEO Linda Darling-Hammond said she has discovered there is a strong correlation between charter school oversight and success across the United States. She and Smith each also stressed the importance of ensuring equity and access for all students at charter schools, as districts aren’t allowed to pick and choose attendees when students move into their areas.

“We can’t allow choice to be used to resegregate American schools,” Smith said, predicting the Legislature and Newsom will have serious discussions about charter schools this year.

Positive steps but plenty of work to do
Panelists also reflected on Gov. Brown’s impact on K-12 education and the groundwork he laid in his eight years in office. CSBA took a deep look at his tenure with a feature in the 2018 winter edition of California Schools magazine.

While crediting Brown for his guidance and implementation of LCFF and the Local Control and Accountability Plan, Darling-Hammond said the future of the system relies heavily on introducing a widely available system of support. “A big part of true accountability is a system of support that allows educators to get all of the knowledge and skills they need easily,” she said, reacting to a discussion about a possible push for greater LCFF accountability.

She also said the state and its educators can take pride in the fact that California has moved beyond just testing and instead focuses on the whole child.

Gordon reflected similarly on Brown, saying the outgoing Governor has been a champion for local control but never fully delivered on funding the LCFF to its full need. The current funding system, he said, simply brings California back to where it was before the recession. “We need a governor who helps get us to where we need to be,” Gordon said.

And while discussion of the future included economic forecasts and advice for preparing for a recession, Smith said the fact is that local educational agencies are already facing that situation because of declining enrollment, the increasing cost of facilities and pension costs — challenges too great considering current funding levels.

“There is an invisible recession that our members are dealing with already,” he said.