Capitol Alert: State school board seeks compromise on spending rules

dwalters@sacbee.comJanuary 9, 2014 

The state Board of Education appears to be playing King Solomon — splitting the baby — as it contends with competing demands on how to implement the state's new program of giving extra money to school districts with large numbers of poor and/or English-learner students.

With billions of dollars at stake in the "Local Control Funding Formula" championed by Gov. Jerry Brown, civil rights groups and other advocates for poor children denounced the original version of regulations as being too loose, while school officials tended to praise them for the "flexibility" they sought.

The board, its staff and its consultants digested the criticism and have released a revised version of the rules, which will be discussed and perhaps approved at a Jan. 16 school board meeting.

The board's agenda for the meeting includes not only the revised rules themselves but a chart that explains the revisions and how they responded to the criticism.

Overall, they appear to tighten up the rules for spending the extra money, but don't go as far as the critics - who included the Legislature's leadership - had wanted. The biggest change is providing more specificity and detail on how districts calculate the extra services they must provide to the targeted kids. But the new rules do not, as the critical groups sought, require that the extra money be spent exclusively on those students.

Brown, citing the principle of "subsidiarity," has called for giving districts as much flexibility as possible, but critics say that leaving the extra spending to the districts could result in its being diverted into other purposes.

Overall, about 60 percent of the state's six million K-2 students are classified as poor because of their qualification for free or reduced-price school meals and/or English-learners.

Meanwhile, EdSource, a website that intensively covers California education, has published a complete guide to the new program and how it would work.

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