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Local school districts could see bump in per-student funding

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Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 12:00 am

For the first time in five years, local school districts could see an increase in per-student funding based on Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed state budget.

However, overall funding is still about 10 percent lower than the amount districts received from the state in 2007-08.

Matthew Roberts, superintendent of the Galt Joint Union High School District, said his staff is pleased to see the proposal to provide for an increase in education on a per-student basis — but still cautious.

"We need to continue to watch the levels of funding," he said, noting that the proposal is based on optimistic forecasts for future revenue. "We need to continue to develop the fragile economy as a big-picture item; stock market is back up, housing is in a slow growth, unemployment is improving. ... Any one of these areas can have a negative impact on the optimistic forecasts for revenue."

Each day, districts receive a specific amount of money for each student, which is set annually by the state. The money goes into a district's general fund and could pay for basically anything needed to educate students, from teachers to heating the classrooms.

Over the last five years of economic recession, districts have seen major funding cuts. Galt Joint Union Elementary School District, for example, has suffered about $8 million in reduced funding from the state that has resulted in layoffs and the closure of school libraries.

Under the governor's proposal, however, 80 percent of previously approved furloughs will be restored to employees.

Tim Hern, associate superintendent and chief business officer for Lodi Unified School District, is less optimistic about what the funding changes mean for schools.

"I have not seen anything to show the exact dollar amount increase, so I don't want to say anything," he said. "We'll be budgeting in the same manner as always until we see the actual changes."

Hern said there may be a slight increase in per-student funding, but how that will play out for the various budget categories has not been communicated to him.

Lodi Unified could be looking at a 1.65 percent increase in some funds — including special education — but not all.

"The legislators have already said this was the most dramatic change in funding in 41 years. There's nothing that's concrete at this point in time, " he said.

Along with slightly higher per-student funding, the governor proposes a different method of distribution known as the "Local Control Funding Formula." Under this, per-student funding and some programs will be replaced by grants over a seven-year phase-in period.

The goal is to focus more resources on California's most needy students — but under the formula, not all districts will share equally in new dollars, according to a consultant report from School Services of California.

For example, both Galt districts' participation in the student freeand reduced-lunch program, along with the number of English-language learners, could create increased funding over the next seven years.

However, the formula still must be approved by the state legislature.

"The news at this point is encouraging, yet the economy remains fragile," Roberts said. "As a result, the district will continue to monitor the larger implications, as well as the governor's proposal for Local Control Funding Formula."

News-Sentinel staff writer Sara Jane Pohlman contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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