Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dan Walters on Education Funding, Part 2.

I've blogged previously about Dan Walters and his views on California's budget. Dan has access to most of official Sacramento, and I generally believe that if he's thinking and writing about a certain problem, it is something that most of Sacramento already is (or soon will be) thinking about, too.

California State Assembly
The column that has my attention is about ELL.  Dan points out that Jerry Brown's latest plan for education reform "provides a 'base grant' of about $6,800 per student and then, over several years, adds as much as $5,000 to districts that have above-average concentrations of English learners and students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches[.]" Dan Walters points to Los Angeles Unified as the potential biggest winner from this change in policy, noting that 76% of LA Unified is Latino or Hispanic.

However, Dan did miss a bit of the story; just pointing out the racial demographics of a school district isn't necessarily a good proxy for how many ELL students there are.  Those numbers are available.  27.3% of LA Unified, for example, are ELL students -- 180,495 out of 662,140.  Sonoma Valley's numbers are available, too.  31.7% of Sonoma Valley Unified students are ELL students -- 1,483 out of 4,673.

It's probable that Sonoma Valley Unified wouldn't receive the maximum grant under the program, because the calculation includes free and reduced price lunch enrollment, where SVUSD is just about at the Statewide average. But if Sonoma Valley Unified got even close to the maximum proposed grant, that would push Sonoma Valley's funding per student to somewhere near $11,800 per student -- which would add more than $10 million per year to the District's budget -- and which would bring total funding fairly close to the level enjoyed by, say, Healdsburg.

 I doubt Jerry Brown's plan will be enacted as proposed -- too many wealthy suburban school districts are highly motivated to fight it. But the specifics of the plan are less important at this point in the budget cycle than the simple fact that the issue's been identified -- that the battlefield in Sacramento has been chosen, and it's funding for ELL-impacted schools.

I suspect the choice by the Governor was a good one.

Finally, since it's "Catch Up With Dan Walters Day" for me, I also noted that Dan took on the "shadow budget" in a recent column, pointing out that the general fund (~$91 billion) does not equal the budget (~$225 billion).  He argues that the practice of reporting only on the balance status of the general fund tends to deceive voters.  I agree, Dan, I agree.