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Simitian: 'Uncertainty' Remains in Education System

Record turn-out for the state senator's annual education forum where he spoke about upcoming proposals and a number of funding-related issues.

The two overflow rooms for state Sen.  weekend education forum said it all.

Saturday's record turnout at the Palo Alto school district office for the state legislator's bi-annual update on education in California mirrored the worry over education funding that nearly everyone—from teachers to parents to boards of education—are expressing this eyar.

"Unfortunately, the size of the crowd each year is often an indicator of the level of concern that people have about where we are with education issues and education funding," Simitian (D-Palo Alto) said. 

School district board members, teachers, and parents from Santa Clara County, San Mateo County and a Santa Cruz County comprised most of those at the meeting, asking the senator questions ranging from community college funding to funding for mental health services in schools.

"This year will be as uncertain as any year we have seen over the last decade," he said. "If there's a word to describe what we're about to walk into, it's 'uncertainty,' I think."

Simitian spent much of his time explaining Gov. Jerry Brown's upcoming proposals, one of which includes a tax to fund education. 

If the tax proposal passes, education funding will likely receive a 10 to 11 percent increase—$5 billion—which will be mostly used to pay back yearly "deferrals."

"One of the ways we have managed to cobble together a budget every year at the state level is by saying, 'Well, we're not going to cut the program, but we're going to defer the payment to next year," he said. About 20 percent of education funding is deferred each year.

The governor, he said, aims to "pay down the wall of debt" with his tax proposal, a combined half-cent sales tax and a tax increase on upper income earners. 

If the law passes in November, those making $250,000 or more will pay an extra one percent on their income, $300,000 and up will pay 1.5 percent more, and those making $500,000 or more will pay two percent extra. The sales tax would be in place for four years and the income tax would last five years. 

"I think he's picked the right number of years," Simitian said. "That being said, I do think it should be temporary."

Proposition 98, the 1988 bill that theoretically guarantees a minimum level of education funding, will do little to help this budget this year if the tax proposal fails, Simitian said.

Another funding proposal Brown wants to phase in over the next five years is called a "weighted student formula," which would simplify the maze-like world of state school funding—Simitan likened it to the Winchester Mystery House—and distribute money on a per-student basis.

"We're going to say, 'For every kid, here's what you get,'" Simitian said. Disadvantaged students, including low-income and English language learners, will receive an additional increment. 

Revenue limit and basic aid schools would would be affected by the change in different ways. All districts receive a minimum amount of state funding, some of which is derived from property taxes; revenue limit districts are those which need extra funding from the state because property taxes alone did not meet the minimum requirement. In contrast, basic aid districts-- roughly 10 percent of those in the state, or 100 districts-- exceed funding through property taxes alone.  

Basic aid schools don't receive money on a per-student basis, but for a variety of programs, Simitian said.  

"If you eliminate those programs and fold all of the funding into a basic, per-pupil allocation with a supplement for disadvantaged students, then the funding you received as basic aid districts is likely to disappear, with the exception of the categoricals that remain in place," he said. 

For revenue limit districts, those with more disadvantaged students benefit, Simitian said. 

Senator Simitian will serve the 11th district which includes thirteen cities—Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Cupertino, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Campbell, Santa Cruz and Capitola—until November, when his 12-year term ends. There are 931,349 people in the district.

Rebecca Sanders January 30, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Senator Simitian's two hour program was recorded and is being replayed on community TV. Anytime it's showing on Comast or AT&T U-verse, it can be watched streaming from the Media Center Website: midpenmedia.org/stream. Here's a link to the schedule: http://midpenmedia.org/program/search.php?action=search&searchtext=Education+Update&Submit=Search
L.A. Chung (Editor) January 31, 2012 at 06:07 AM
Thanks, @Rebecca Sanders for providing the link. The meeting was chockfull of detail, so if you can catch this, you should.

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