Panel prepares to submit education findings to governor

A committee formed by Gov. Schwarzengger in 2005 to take a comprehensive look at education policy and financing in California is set to make their recommendations to the administration. And some of the proposals seem sure to reignite tensions between the administration and members of the education coalition that crippled the governor’s legislative agenda in 2005.

Capitol Weekly has obtained a draft of the report that the Governor’s Committee on Education Excellence plans to submit to administration officials in the coming weeks. The report calls for a wholesale restructuring of the categorical funding system and some tinkering with Proposition 98, the initiative that sets up school funding guarantees. The report also calls for a merit-based pay structure for teachers, an idea which has been vehemently opposed by teachers unions in the past, and providing a “weighted formula” that would give more money to schools for poor pupils or English-learners.  

Schwarzenegger has said he will take the work of the committee into account when crafting his education proposals for 2008. In March, the committee unveiled a 1700-page collection of 23 separate studies that looked at school finance and education policy. The studies found California schools to be woefully under-funded—by as much as $1 trillion.

"The committee's work is nearly finished. We look forward to a public conversation about our recommendations when they are completed and after we have had a chance to present them formally to the governor," said Committee chairman Ted Mitchell.

Education Secretary David Long said the administration has not yet received the recommendations. And, he said, it was impossible to say which of the recommendations would ultimately be endorsed by Schwarzenegger.

“The recommendations made by the committee will have a great deal to do with what is going to happen. The administration is playing very close attention to those recommendations,” said Long.

But Long did say he expects education to be a focus of the administration next year, and will get mention in the governor’s State of the State address in January.

The committee also suggests making the Secretary of Education position a cabinet-level job, and putting the secretary in charge of apportioning money and resources to school districts and adopting education policy and standards. The committee proposes stripping the state Board of Education from its statutory power, making it “strictly advisory in nature,” and transforming the position of state superintendent into “a role akin to that of an inspector general for education,” according to the draft memo.

A spokeswoman for state superintendent Jack O’Connell said he has not seen the draft report, but has maintained that there should be a school advocate who is elected by voters. “There is an important role for a separately-elected official who is accountable only to parents and voters,” says O’Connell spokeswoman Ann Bancroft. “Schools need an advocate.”

Bancroft said O’Connell is also prepared to unveil some legislative proposals next year, many of which will be focused on the gap between rich and poor students. “His focus has been on closing the achievement gap,” she says. “Anything that the governor proposes, he’ll be looking at through that lens. But his goal is not to do a one-year legislative package. The achievement gap is a multi-faceted problem, and the solution will have to be as well.”

The report does address the issue of the achievement gap, proposing a new per-pupil formula to allocate resources to schools. The report proposes providing 25 percent more for English learners, and 50 percent more for poor student. So, for example, if the per-pupil base funding is $5,000 per student, schools would receive $6,250 for an English learner, and $7,500 for a poor student.
The report states this weighted formula would provide “a more rational and equitable system of school finance.”

The study notes the effectiveness of a program in New York City, where schools are graded A-through-F, using a complex methodology that tracks student performance over time. Some 50 schools got an “F” grade, including many that had been considered top performers. ““Is this a wake-up call for the people who work there? You betcha,” said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The California recommendations also include a proposal to base teacher pay on classroom performance. So-called “merit-pay” plans have been introduced in the Legislature before, always with strong opposition from the California Teachers Association and other education groups.

“This compensation model would directly reward teachers for gains in student achievement at the school and classroom level,” the report states. “Compensation structures also should provide higher rewards for effective teachers teaching in a district’s hard-to-staff schools.”

That last idea has been endorsed by Senate Education Committee Chairman Jack Scott, D-Pasadena. “When Chevron wants to get someone to go to Saudi Arabia, have to pay them a bit more than, say, Redondo Beach,” said Scott.  “We have to look at the possibility of granting some bonus pay for teachers in low-performing schools.”

Scott said he would also like to see school funding be based on average monthly enrollment rather than daily attendance.
“That would lead to a tremendous reduction in paperwork that a district is involved in,” said Scott. “Attendance clerks can be spending their time in attempting to get delinquent or truant students into school.”

The administration has opposed changes to the ADA formula, saying that basing funding on daily attendance provides incentives for schools to crack down on truant students.

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