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RB_Clean_School_3_classroom.JPGThe first legislative public hearing on Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal for a new school funding formula drew scores of people Thursday who generally applauded the concept but criticized details.

Brown is pushing to consolidate funds for state-mandated programs in order to provide a "base grant" of about $6,800 per student, which would be supplemented with extra funds for districts with large numbers of poor students, English learners or foster youth.

The new formula would distribute $1.6 billion in the coming fiscal year.

The governor's goal is to let districts decide for themselves how best to spend money for various school-related "categorical" programs, such as summer school or foster youth programs, while targeting communities with special needs to receive a fiscal boost.

"Clearly a big step has been presented to us, a lot of moving pieces, and we want to do it right," state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said in closing Thursday's nearly five-hour public hearing of the Budget and Fiscal Review Committee he chairs.

No decisions were made at Thursday's hearing, which marked the first salvo in what are expected to be lengthy deliberations by lawmakers before a final state budget is adopted for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

By providing extra funds to districts with large numbers of poor and needy students, critics say the formula tends to benefit urban districts at the expense of more affluent suburban districts.

Other issues raised Thursday included concerns that districts might give short shrift to foster youth, facility maintenance and other programs once mandates are removed; questions about how the state would hold districts accountable for inadequate services; and whether enough money will be channeled to vocational education or to charter schools serving low-income youth.

State schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson urged committee members to "embrace this opportunity, but to do so carefully."

"There's a wide range of policy issues that must be resolved before I fully support this vision," he said.

Representatives of the California Federation of Teachers and California School Boards Association were among those praising the concept, but pushing for changes. A Los Angeles Unified School District spokeswoman said only that the new funding formula is "a gigantic step forward."

The California Teachers Association, a key player in the state's education system, did not participate in Thursday's hearing because its purpose largely was informational and because the group is still assessing potential impacts of the funding formula, spokeswoman Claudia Briggs said.

"We still have a lot of questions," Briggs said.

As the hearing dragged on, hour after hour, one senator after another left for other commitments. For much of the final hour, only Leno was left to hear testimony.

PHOTO CREDIT: A school custodian cleans a classroom at Florin Elementary School in Sacramento on Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Randall Benton / Sacramento Bee file, 2009.


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