Governor’s Budget Proposal Spells Good News for San Mateo County Schools

With the California economy steadily improving and the state coffers filling up, many schools are destined to see a dramatic improvement in funding next year. Governor Jerry Brown’s budget projects an extra $10 billion under the Prop. 98 entitlement and that number should continue to grow in the years to come. The Governor proposes increasing funding by $725 per student next year, and using additional dollars to wipe out the “wall of debt,” deferral payments that have been plaguing schools for years.

Gov. Brown is being cautious, however, and said in a news conference on January 9, 2014, that paying down the $354 billion in long-term state liabilities should take precedence over expanding or adding new programs. “Many programs are attractive and may have value but when we have long-term liabilities now is not time to embark on a raft of new initiatives,” he said.

Senate Democratic leaders have proposed expanding the state’s pre-kindergarten program, opening it up to all 4-year-olds. “We’ll be watching that one closely as we at the County Office truly believe in the value of early education,” notes Denise Porterfield Deputy Superintendent at the San Mateo County Office of Education (SMCOE).

“Wiping out the debt will help San Mateo County schools with their cash flow,” adds Porterfield. School districts won’t need to rely on borrowing to meet their needs so that will increase the amount of money they have to spend.

In addition to the current rainy day fund, the Governor is also proposing a Prop. 98 rainy day fund. That would ensure that Prop. 98 could not be manipulated in the future in more difficult years and that schools would be guaranteed a level of funding that Prop. 98 was designed to provide. “But there will be challenges getting that through the legislature, because there is money now and there will be pressure to put dollars into new or expanded programs,” notes Porterfield.

The new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) for schools does put some districts at a disadvantage, however. With 15 of the 23 school districts in San Mateo County designated as Basic Aid Districts and already at a higher funding level, these districts will only see an increase in funding if property taxes increase. In addition, the LCFF sets an equal base for all districts and then provides supplemental funding for high-need students (English language learners, low-income students, and foster youth).

Since each of the districts in San Mateo County have varying levels of students in need, some districts may get more supplemental funding than others. “Overall, we are pleased with the direction of the Governor’s budget so that we can continue to focus on what we’ve been working on rather than moving in new directions,“ adds Porterfield.

Wiping out the wall of debt will mean there will be less of a budget oversight role for SMCOE, notes Porterfield. In addition, the elimination of most categorical programs means that the County Office will have to make some decisions on how best to support districts. “We will be talking to stakeholders to determine what they most need from us,” says Porterfield.

“Californians across the state know that children deserve every tool and opportunity to thrive inside the classroom and out. I’ll continue working with Governor Brown and the Legislature over the next six months to make sure that education remains the top priority in the state budget,” noted Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, in a press release. Now the Governor’s budget goes to the state legislature and its committees where there will be debates and revisions before the Governor presents his revision in May, and the finalized budget in June.