Accelify Blog

School District Funding Flexibility Bill Moves Forward (CA)

April 29, 2010

An education bill, drafted by Sen. Alan Lowenthal to give public school districts greater flexibility regarding their use of state-mandated, or categorical, funds, was passed by the state Senate Education Committee in a 7-0 vote Wednesday, April 21.

Introduced in February by Lowenthal and sponsored by the Long Beach Unified School District, SB 1396 proposes to launch a three-year pilot program beginning in 2011 that would exempt three California school districts from the financial restrictions related to categorical programs — currently specific amounts of state funding are earmarked for specific educational programs — ultimately allowing them the freedom to spend their money as they see fit.

"Categorical program funding, coupled with budget cuts to education, have jeopardized student programs as well as teacher jobs by tying the hands of how school districts may spend their money," Lowenthal said in a press release. "…I truly believe this program will demonstrate that state money for categorical programs can be managed more efficiently and responsibly at the local level while making progress in closing the achievement gap and saving teacher jobs."

LBUSD Superintendent Chris Steinhauser has been an ardent advocate for more independence over school districts’ use of categorical funds. The LBUSD, which has cut roughly $100 million from its budget over the past five years and anticipates approximately $100 million in additional cuts over the next two years, has received some flexibility over categorical funds. However, Steinhauser believes local school districts should be granted total control.

LBUSD officials said additional flexibility would help mitigate the impact of budget cuts — t he Long Beach Board of Education to date has approved approximately $50 million in reductions and revisions to its 2010-11 fiscal year budget. Officials also said more flexibility could reduce employee layoffs — the school board last week eliminated 90 classified employee positions, and 849 teachers and certificated managers currently face potential layoffs.

"It’s time to give our schools the flexibility we need to make the best use of our increasingly limited resources," Steinhauser said in a statement. "This bill will create a pilot program with great accountability, and it will help us to accelerate the closing of achievement gaps."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell would select the pilot program’s three participating school districts. They would be monitored for student progress and fiscal solvency, among other measurements, over the duration of the program.

The bill is expected to move on to the 11-member Senate Appropriations Committee within the next week.

Lowenthal co-authored SB 1396 with Sen. Gloria Romero, chair of the Senate’s Education Committee, and Assembly members Bonnie Lowenthal and Michael Villines.