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Gov. Jerry Brown reversed course this week by restoring $496 million in school bus money in his budget proposal for next fiscal year after facing criticism from education groups.

The decision comes after the governor signed legislation Friday that restored bus funding for the remainder of the current school year after districts lost that money in December's midyear cuts. Brown quietly issued a new education budget plan this week ahead of a Thursday state Senate hearing.

Brown's reversal in 2012-13 comes with some caveats. First, it relies on voters approving his plan to raise income taxes on the wealthy earners, as well as sales taxes by a half cent. It allows districts to spend their bus money on other purposes. And the governor intends to eliminate school transportation earmarks in 2013-14, though districts may receive funding in a new form allowing them to maintain bus service.

The governor would pay for school buses next year by devoting less money toward reducing the state's so-called "wall of debt." Brown now proposes spending $1.8 billion on reversing past accounting maneuvers that forced districts to borrow or cut, down from $2.4 billion. It's the first time this year the governor has eased off his plan to devote new dollars to cleaning up balance sheets rather than pay for school programs.

Districts have been concerned about a Brown proposal to eliminate education earmarks and provide block grants to districts based on a new "weighted pupil funding formula." The governor envisioned that the proposal would be phased in over five years, starting with 20 percent of funding next school year. But the governor this week eased that plan by calling for only a 5 percent phase-in and a guarantee that districts would receive the same amount of money next year that they are getting now.

It's not clear that Brown's changes have appeased districts, some of whom fear they will lose significantly more under the new formula than the old earmarked system. Schools lobbyist Bob Blattner said the tweaks "were necessary, but I still think this is such an enormous change to school funding that it shouldn't be pushed through in a hurry."

"In the context of school districts still in a cutting mode, this may not be perceived as very helpful," said Kevin Gordon, a longtime education lobbyist. "He's trying to make improvements. But what he does is makes it look good on the front end, then in the long run there will be a lot of losers in this proposal."



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