Legislation Update - 04/29/2009


By Peter Birdsall and Carrie Krueger Marovich
School Innovations & Advocacy


FEDERAL STIMULUS DOLLARS ON THEIR WAY TO SCHOOLS

School districts throughout the state are awaiting allocation of their share of the stabilization funding being made available to states through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The hope is that these dollars will save teaching jobs and backfill some of the sweeping program cuts included in the California Legislature’s February budget.

On April 17 California became the first state to receive federal approval of its application for a share of the stabilization funding. The state application would allocate funding to K-12 education in 2008-09 to fully restore K-12 education funding to its 2007-08 funding level. This means approximately $2.6 billion will be distributed to local school districts and is intended by the federal government to help avoid layoffs and further education reforms in the areas of teacher quality, standards and assessment, longitudinal data to improve instruction and the support of struggling schools.

The California Department of Education intends to announce estimated funding amounts in early May. At that point, school districts should have a reasonable estimate of the amounts they will receive. The amounts will be very large because they reflect a restoration of all the cuts—more than $2.5 billion statewide. It is important to note that the federal dollars are discretionary in nature, so districts are not required to restore cuts on a dollar per dollar basis.

When deciding how to allocate the stabilization funding, districts will be mindful that these dollars represent one-time funding. This should bode well for IB programs since a district’s business officials will be more likely to commit the funds to one-time activities, such as professional development, than to ongoing costs such as staff salaries. Though schools can expect another one-time allocation in 2009-10, it is likely to be less than half the amount they will received for 2008-09.

Even as local educators look toward increased federal funding, however, state revenues continue to come in below projections. This raises the specter of an unpleasant scenario: schools receiving federal funds to backfill prior budget cuts, but then suffering new budget losses due to the continuing state fiscal crisis.

The Governor is scheduled to release new budget projections and proposals in early June following the special election on May 19, when voters will determine whether or not the two-year tax increase approved by the Legislature will be extended for an additional two years.


IB SUPPORTERS SHOULD PRESS FOR PROGRAM FUNDING

The California Department of Education recently released a comprehensive memo concerning the implementation of the mid-year budget cut bill enacted by the Legislature in February. This measure contains unprecedented flexibility for school districts to redirect funding from 40 education programs – including IB – to “any educational purpose.”

Of particular concern to IB programs are interpretations in the memo that categorical funding received by school districts will be considered unrestricted funds, meaning they will not be earmarked for IB programs. Also concerning is the Department’s interpretation that school districts do not need to hold public meetings on the redirection of categorical funds -- that they may simply treat such funds as unrestricted and provide for their allocation through the regular budget hearing adoption process. In short, this will allow districts to spend funding originally intended to support IB programs for other purposes with little or no notice to the public.

IB coordinators, parents and other supporters, therefore, will need to exercise their voices and argue at the local level for those dollars to be spent on IB programs. As noted previously, two key arguments should be emphasized:

  • The IB program tends to attract students to a district. The financial value of the average daily attendance generated by such students far exceeds the dollar amount of the IB Grant.
  • The flexibility provided in the recent budget package will expire in June 2013, and districts will have to comply with the original requirements of the program to continue receiving IB funding. Do districts want to dismantle a program that will be so difficult and expensive to start again?

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