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Thumbnail image for Brown.jpgThe nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office says in a new report that Gov. Jerry Brown's school funding overhaul has many strengths but questions the retention of some "irrational" relics from the current system that benefit powerful constituents.

California for years has funded schools with a combination of general per-pupil dollars and earmarks dedicated for state-driven purposes. Brown, right, wants to blow up the earmarks and create a new system that gives districts more control and directs more money to schools with impoverished students and English learners.

The governor's proposal would generally help urban and rural districts while proving less beneficial to suburban districts with wealthier families. The Bee explained today how this would play out in the Sacramento region, based on Department of Finance estimates.

The analyst's office finds Brown's system "simple and transparent" compared to the current ways in which the state funds K-12 schools. It relies on a uniform funding formula and gives districts more say in how dollars get spent.

"Currently, the state's categorical programs, as well as the broader education funding system, are based on overly complex and complicated formulas," the report says. "Very few policy makers, taxpayers, school board members, or parents understand or can explain why a particular district receives a particular level of funding."

But the analyst's office said Brown did not go far enough by retaining two particular earmarks related to school bus transportation and grants once tied to desegregation efforts. The LAO said that both rely on "outdated formulas that allocate funds disproportionately across districts for no justifiable reason."

School experts have speculated that Brown retained the two earmarks because they have powerful constituencies. The report says almost 60 percent of the $855 million in desegregation-era grants go to Los Angeles Unified School District, the state's largest and best represented in the Legislature. Bus drivers have labor advocates who want transportation funding to remain as a distinct pot of money.

But Department of Finance officials said Friday that Brown protected those earmarks because the state could otherwise face lawsuits for not complying with desegregation court orders that require busing and additional funding.

The analyst's office also suggests that Brown should raise the bar for providing bonus money for districts with particularly high levels of poverty and English learners. Under Brown's plan, that money kicks in at districts where a majority of students fit those categories. The analyst's office says half of the state's districts meet that test, and the state would be better off prioritizing the extra funds for areas with "extraordinary levels of additional need."


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