School Cut Hurts Minority, Low-Income Students

Some 2.7 million school children  — hardest hit being Latino, African-American, English language learners — will lose $400 million in per-pupil spending unless Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signs legislation to prevent the cut.

The reduction was part of the public school cuts approved by lawmakers in July to help balance the budget.

Initiated by Democrats based on assurances by the Schwarzenegger administration federal funds could backfill the cut, the budgetary move affects districts with low-performing schools whose student populations tend to be poorer and higher in minority enrollment.

The cuts involve the Quality Education Investment Act, which was created as part of a legal settlement between the state and the California Teachers Association and aimed at improving academic achievement in the state’s worst schools.

Under the eight-year, $3 billion program, California’s lowest performing schools receive $900 per student if teacher staffing is increased and class size is reduced by five students in Grade 4 through Grade 8. High schools get $1,000 per-pupil from the program for five-student reductions in math, English, social studies and science courses.

Nearly 500 schools – 139 districts — receive funding from the program.

During negotiations over closing a $24 billion hole in the budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, a goal of Democrats was to reduce Schwarzenegger’s proposed cuts in health and welfare programs.

Schwarzenegger’s Department of Finance proposed using federal economic recovery dollars to replace the state’s $400 million annual payment into the quality education program. The savings could then be used to reduce the proposed cuts to social programs.

Democrats were assured districts would be held harmless under the plan.

The bill authorizing the education cut, AB 2 4x, was signed by the GOP governor July 28.

Democrats subsequently learned that it might be illegal to use federal funds to backfill rather than augment existing state education spending and that even if such money could be used in that manner, there wouldn’t be enough to cover the $400 million cut.

 A school can receive no more than $500,000 in federal School Improvement Grant funds, which means that only $180 million of the $400 million reduction would be covered, assuming the grants could be used for that purpose. 

When they learned of their mistake, Democrats passed a measure in the closing hours of the legislative session, SB 84, to prevent the reductions from occurring unless there are sufficient funds to hold districts harmless.

Schwarzenegger has no position on the bill, a spokesman said.

Many educators fear, however, that he will veto the measure. In part because his administration proposed the $400 reduction and, also, by undoing it, he creates a $400 million hole in the state’s already cash-starved general fund.

If Schwarzenegger vetoes the bill, school districts that receive quality education funds face $400 million in additional, unexpected cuts in the current fiscal year.

Here’s how the budget deal works:

In order to comply with the terms of the settlement with the teachers association, the quality education program must continue to operate. So schools that get money from the program will continue to do so.

To offset that $400 million in quality education funds, the revenue limits for the 139 districts that receive money from the program will be reduced by a like amount. Revenue limits is the name given to a school district’s general fund.

Santa Ana Unified, for example, receives $11 million from the Quality Education Investment Act. Under current law, its revenue limits will be reduced $11 million – district wide, not just for schools receiving quality education funds – a loss of $201 per pupil. 

Elsewhere, San Francisco Unified gets $4.3 million from the program and would see its revenue limits fall by the same amount, an $81 per-pupil reduction. For Fresno Unified, it represents a drop of $216 per student.

Kern High School District, Lennox Elementary Unified, Parler Unified, Farmerville Unified, Coachella Valley Unified and Planada Elementary would all see per-pupil reductions of more than $400 — $460 for Lennox. 

Three small districts in Imperial County lose over $700 per pupil.

The average loss to school districts that receive quality education money is $141 per pupil.

There are 2.7 million school children in the districts that receive quality education money. Of them, 1.8 million are eligible for the federal free lunch or reduced lunch program. Nearly 1 million attend the state’s lowest performing schools. 

Supporters of SB 84 analyzed the impact of a veto, comparing the effect on districts that receive quality education funds and those that don’t.

Statewide, students eligible for a free or reduced price lunch would be cut by an average of $92. Those who aren’t eligible, $35.

On average, Latino students would be cut by $90 each. African-American pupils, $83. White students, $26, the analysis found.

English language learners would be cut by $91 per-pupil. Those students proficient in English, $55.

In California’s Decile 1 and Decile 2 schools – those with the worst academic performance and the heaviest reliance on quality education funds – there would be an average $157 per-pupil and $137 per-pupil reduction, respectively.

In Decile 9 and Decile 10 schools, the best performing, reductions would be $22 and $16 per-pupil, respectively.



Filed under: Budget and Economy


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