LAO 2005-06 Budget Analysis: General Government

Analysis of the 2005-06 Budget Bill

Legislative Analyst's Office
February 2005

Other Issues

Few Details on Other Proposals

We recommend the Legislature reject several new initiatives proposed in the budget unless the administration makes available complete proposals including a narrative that explains their rationale.

The Governor's budget for K-12 education contains a number of other proposals for which few details were available at the time this analysis was prepared. A complete budget proposal generally includes a narrative explaining the need for the program and the rationale for the approach proposed, a detailed description of the fiscal structure of the new program, and proposed budget or statutory language needed to implement the proposal. The budget provides none of this supporting material for the proposals discussed below. In several cases, the budget proposal also fails to identify how the new activities would be funded in the budget year.

The Legislature's budget process is designed to ensure that the state's fiscal plan targets funds to the state's highest priorities. Without a thorough understanding of the recommended changes, the Legislature is unable to evaluate the costs and benefits of the Governor's proposals. Therefore, unless the administration provides the Legislature with a complete package of supporting material for these proposals, we recommend the Legislature reject them.

This would be unfortunate because, in most cases, the concepts forwarded in the Governor's budget for K-12 appear to have merit. Below, we describe each proposal for which we received no supporting material and discuss our initial reaction to it.

Accelerated English Language Acquisition Program (ELAP). The budget would redirect $57.6 million in funds for ELAP and use the funds to provide staff development in teaching instruction to English learner (EL) students. Currently, ELAP funds are distributed to districts for services to EL students in grades 4 through 8. The new staff development program would serve teachers in these grades with services modeled on the existing Reading First staff development program. Reading First is a federally funded program that provides districts with a minimum of $6,500 per K-3 teacher for reading professional development.

The most recent evaluation of ELAP suggests the current program has little impact on student learning. For this reason, we would support proposals that use these funds more effectively. In addition, we also believe that helping EL students learn English quickly is a critical task for the state's education system. The proposal raises several issues, however. Dedicating $50 million for a yet-unproven staff development program appears to be going too far, too fast. Moreover, no justification has been given why the Reading First model would be an effective approach for helping teachers meet the needs of EL students. Finally, given that English language development for most EL students in California begins in kindergarten, it is not evident why focusing on teachers in grades 4 through 8 is the most effective approach to helping this group of students.

Intervention in Low-Performing Schools. The budget proposes to convert failing schools into charter schools or assume management of the schools through a School Recovery Team. The budget proposal would place an unknown number of schools that are failing to meet state or federal performance goals into this intervention program.

Most critically, the budget does not identify how the administration proposes to support the new program. The budget is silent on the cost of the intervention, the length of time state teams would manage the schools, and what happens to the schools after the state leaves. We also note the budget proposal continues the past focus of intervention on individual schools. We think the state should concentrate most of its efforts on improving low-performing districts rather than schools. Since districts affect so many elements of school success—including teacher assignment, curriculum and instructional development, and resource decisions—we think a focus on improving districts has more promise than a state takeover of schools.

Delegating Budget Decisions to the School Site. The Governor's budget proposes a pilot program for determining the costs and benefits of school site budgeting and decision making. The pilot would test the concept in a small number of districts that volunteer for the program. As part of the pilot, schools would be given more flexibility over the use of state categorical program funds in order to help the sites use funds most effectively to meet student needs.

Districts in California and in other states currently are devolving a greater amount of budget discretion to school sites. Decentralization appears sufficiently promising that a study of the costs and benefits of the approach has merit. Details of the proposal, however, were not available at the time this analysis was prepared. How the proposal would extend greater flexibility over categorical program resources to participating schools constitutes a critical detail. The proposal also failed to clearly specify the goals of the pilot and the criteria that would be used to measure its success. In addition, the Governor's proposal does not provide any resources to districts for planning or for the evaluation of the pilot.

Fitness and Nutrition Initiative. The budget proposes an initiative to prevent child obesity. According to the budget document, the initiative includes several school-based efforts such as improving the nutritional quality of food and beverages, increasing opportunities for physical activities, and making fresh fruit and vegetables more available. The budget includes $6 million in the Department of Health Services (DHS) budget for a series of obesity reforms, but provides no funding in the K-12 portion of the budget.

Data provided in the budget document indicate that the number of overweight children has grown significantly over the last two decades. The proposal, however, provides no specific details about how the school-based initiatives would be funded or implemented. Funding proposed in the DHS budget could support some of the proposed activities in schools. For example, the proposal provides $3 million for grants to community organizations to implement projects involving schools and other local agencies. No information was available on whether the DHS program was intended to support the K-12 activities or whether the administration expects to identify another funding source for the education component of the program. (Please see our analysis of the DHS proposal in the "Health and Social Services" chapter.)

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