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California school districts concerned about state funding

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Posted at 1:27 PM, May 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-21 16:27:45-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- School leaders across the state are sounding the alarm over proposed funding cuts to public education.

Some district leaders said to safely get kids back into the classroom they need more money, not less.

"I feel like the budget needs to be worked out to put kids first," said parent Johnetta Gipson.

In a May revision to the governor's budget, the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) took a significant hit. The proposal states, "Absent additional federal funds, the COVID-19 Recession requires a 10 percent ($6.5 billion) reduction to LCFF. This reduction includes the elimination of a 2.31% cost-of-living adjustment. This reduction will be triggered off if the federal government provides sufficient funding to backfill this cut."

Local officials said that amounts to about a $500 million hit in San Diego County schools.

"A 10% hit to the Local Control Funding Formula would be absolutely catastrophic," said Dr. Paul Gothold, the San Diego County Superintendent of Schools.

Gothold believes districts are up to the challenge of getting kids back into the classroom, but said state and federal officials must come through with funding.

"It's naive for us to think that we can do more, extend our school year, mitigate learning loss, all these things that we talk about, and at the same time taking a 10 percent cut," he said. "It just doesn't line up."

In California, schools get money based on how many kids are in the classroom every day.

Due to the pandemic, Gothold said the governor's executive order did what they call a hold harmless. That means districts' average daily attendance wasn't going to be penalized or rewarded, it would instead stay the same under current conditions.

"Moving forward into this next year there are some things that do need to be ironed out, and we're actually advocating for that same hold harmless so we can collect ADA (average daily attendance) whether the child is at home or at school or a combination of both," Gothold said.

He said districts and schools need to make sure they can offer multiple delivery options for what parents want and need.

"Every decision has to be made in the best interest of our children or kids," Gothold said.

School warnings

This week several of the largest school districts in the state sent a letter to influential state senate and assembly members addressing the May Revision to the Governor’s Budget.

The letter stated, "Reopening our school campuses will require more – not fewer – resources to ensure and sustain proper implementation of public health guidance and the safety of all of those involved. Cuts will mean that the reopening of schools will be delayed even after State guidance and clearance from public health officials is given. The notion that schools can continue to operate safely in the fall with a decreased State budget is not realistic."

It's a statement echoed by the head of the California School Board Association.

"What message is this sending to our community about the prioritization of education?" said Xilonin Cruz-Gonzalez. "We say education is critical to reopening the economy, yet we see education carrying the burden of the cuts."

She said at first the association was grateful that it appeared the Governor was trying to minimize cuts, but as more information came out, she said it seems schools are carrying the burden of balancing the state's budget.

"Parents will see cuts happening at a local level, but they are really being driven by state decisions in terms of how much schools get," Cruz-Gonzalez said. "So we really need to be focused on our state leaders to see that they hear strongly that we need to fund our schools and fund them well enough so that we can open up safely."

State Response

Reporter Adam Racusin asked the governor's office to respond to district concerns on funding levels.

The governor's office did not respond.

However, head of the Assembly Budget Committee Phil Ting said they are doing everything possible to make sure that education remains a priority.

"We think the governor did a good job trying to keep school funding flat," Ting said. "The way he did that, he reduced it out years, but there's a lot of one-time money this year. What we want to do is to ensure that schools are held harmless with potentially a little bit of additional funding for schools, and so we're still in the process of formulating our potential budget proposal."

Ting said they're hoping, at the very least, to keep school funding flat.

"I think the challenge is that many school districts were hoping for a much bigger increase, they had actually factored that into their budgets, so I think that's one of the challenging situations."

Ting said in the long-term, the state needs to take a hard look at how they are going to continue to get schools the funding they need.

"We had a very strong economy last year, and schools were still not getting the amount of fund that they really desired," Ting said. "So, I think long-term, we need to figure out that part of the problem."

The budget proposal notes, “The May Revision proposes a one-time investment of $4.4 billion ($4 billion federal Coronavirus Relief Fund and $355 million federal Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund) to local educational agencies to address learning loss related to COVID-19 school closures, especially for students most heavily impacted by those closures, including supporting an earlier start date for the next school year.”