Analysis of the 2008-09 Budget Bill: Education

Other Issues

In the “Proposition 98 Priorities” section of this chapter, we outline our recommendations for aligning the budget–year spending plan with the amount of funding that would be available under our alternative budget. Below, we discuss several of our specific program recommendations in greater detail.

Eliminate Physical Education Teacher Incentive Grants

We recommend the Legislature eliminate the Physical Education Teacher Incentive grant program (for savings of $42 million, Proposition 98 General Fund) because it does not distribute funds based on need, has no built–in accountability measures, and prioritizes physical education above other subject areas.

The 2006–07 Budget Act established the Physical Education Teacher Incentive (PETI) grant program, which provides $35,000 to 1,142 K–8 schools to hire a teacher specifically to provide physical education instruction to students. Schools were selected randomly but were to be representative of schools statewide, based on the size, type, and geographic location of the school. In 2007–08, the program was continued for the same schools and recipients were provided a 4.5 percent cost–of–living adjustment. For the budget year the Governor proposes to reduce program funding by 6.9 percent, which would result in schools’ grants amounts being reduced by the same percentage.

Three Major Concerns With Program. We have several concerns with the PETI program:

Eliminate Duplicative School Safety Grants

We recommend the Legislature eliminate a relatively small school safety program that largely duplicates the efforts of the state’s larger school safety program. Eliminating the School Safety Consolidated Competitive Grant program would save $18 million in Proposition 98 General Fund monies (from the 2007–08 Budget Act level).

The School Safety Consolidated Competitive Grant program (SSCCG) awards grants of up to $500,000 for a five–year period for local educational agencies (LEAs) to address school safety and violence prevention issues. This competitive grant is open to LEAs serving kindergarten through grade twelve for school safety activities involving community collaboration. No accountability, reporting, or evaluation requirements exist for SSCCG. In 2007–08, the state provided $18 million for this program. This funding level resulted in 31 grants to serve 46 schools. For 2008‑09, the Governor has proposed a funding level of $17 million.

State Has Another, Larger, More Flexible School Safety Program. In addition to SSCCG, the state funds the School Safety Block Grant program. This program serves the same purpose as SSCCG—providing grants to LEAs to address school safety and violence prevention issues. Funds may be used for personnel, materials, strategies, programs, or any other purpose that would materially contribute to reducing violence among students and providing safe schools. The Superintendant of Public Instruction is required to report annually to the Legislature regarding this program and grantees are required to provide information, as requested. In 2007–08, the state provided $101 million for this program and over 950 LEAs received apportionments—including all 31 of the LEAs receiving SSCCG grants. For 2008‑09, the Governor has proposed a funding level of $94 million.

Eliminate Duplicative Program. We recommend the Legislature eliminate the SSCCG for the following reasons:

Phase Out Year Round Schools Grant Program

We recommend the Legislature reduce funding for the Year Round Schools grant program by $19 million in 2008‑09 (from the 2007–08 Budget Act level) and phase out the entire program over a four year period because fewer school districts are participating in the program and most schools are expected to be off multitrack calendars by 2012–13.

The Year Round Schools (YRS) grant program provides funding for schools that operate on a multitrack year round calendar and enroll more students than the state’s facility capacity standards. Under a multitrack calendar, students are split into “tracks.” Schedules are staggered so one track is on vacation at a time, allowing schools that are over capacity to still adequately provide classroom space for all students. For example, a school of 1,000 students operating with four tracks only needs to have school facilities sufficient to instruct 750 students at one time. The YRS program provides a dollar amount per pupil that is adjusted depending on the degree to which a school site is above its capacity. The 2007–08 Budget Act provided $97 million for the YRS program. The Governor proposes to reduce funding to $91 million in the budget year.

Schools Are Moving Off Multitrack Calendars. Over the last several years, the YRS program has experienced a significant decline in the number of participating school districts. In 2004–05, 16 school districts received funds through the program. Only four districts have requested funds in 2007–08. Due to statewide enrollment declines, some schools no longer qualify for the program. In addition, a majority of the schools that currently receive YRS funding are not expected to be on a multitrack calendar by 2012–13. The settlement of the Williams lawsuit in 2004 also requires the state to eliminate by 2012 the “Concept 6” calendar, a type of multitrack calendar that reduces the number of days of instruction but increases the length of the school day.

Because of the expected decline in the program and fiscal challenges facing the state, we recommend reducing the program to $78 million in the budget year, a reduction of $13 million from the proposed level. We further recommend the state reduce the program by $19 million each subsequent year until 2012–13, at which time we recommend sunsetting the program.

Reduce STAR Testing

We recommend the Legislature eliminate the norm–referenced test portion of the Standardized Testing and Reporting program for budget–year savings of $2.5 million in federal Title VI funds. (Reduce Item 6110–113–0890 by $2.5 million.)

The administration’s workload budget proposes $117 million in state and federal funds for the state’s assessment program in 2008‑09. This includes $71 million for the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program ($62 million Proposition 98, $8.6 million federal Title VI). This is virtually the same spending level as in the current year (after accounting for one–time expenditures in 2007–08).

Under STAR, students in grades 2 through 11 take at least two tests each year—mathematics and English language arts. In grades 3 and 7, students also take a national norm–referenced test in the same subjects. In addition, students may be assessed in writing, history, and science depending on the grade level. The STAR program also includes tests for special education and Spanish–speaking students.

Eliminate the Norm–Referenced Tests. The bulk of the STAR assessments have been administered for several years. The maturation of the testing system provides the opportunity to take stock of the various tests within STAR. The state could save about $2.5 million annually by eliminating the national norm–referenced tests in grades 3 and 7 with—in our view—little loss of information about the progress of students in California.

This change could be made because the tests no longer serve a critical statewide purpose. As originally enacted, the STAR tests included only national norm–referenced tests. The norm–referenced tests, however, are not aligned with California’s content standards. For this reason, the state developed the California Standards Tests (CSTs), and norm–referenced testing continued only in grades 3 and 7. Since the early 2000s, the state has relied on the CSTs to assess student progress based on the state standards. These tests have been proven accurate and aligned to standards.

One rationale for continuing the norm–referenced tests was to provide information on how students in California perform compared to the rest of the nation. This link to national performance standards is also provided through the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The NAEP annually assesses a sample of 4th and 8th grade students in each state. While it is not perfect, NAEP represents an assessment of the relative progress of the state’s students compared to students in other states.

As a result, the norm–referenced tests no longer play an important role in the state’s testing program. We recommend, therefore, the Legislature eliminate the tests and save $2.5 million in the budget year. In terms of testing time, this recommendation would save 2.5 hours of testing in third grade and three hours in seventh grade. This represents about a 30 percent reduction in testing time for most students in these grades.

Use Federal Funds for CalPADS

We recommend the Legislature use federal Title VI funds in lieu of $3.2 million in General Fund (non–Proposition 98) proposed for the California Pupil Assessment Data System in 2008‑09. (Reduce Item 6110–001–0001 by $3.2 million, increase Item 6110–001–0890 by $3.2 million.)

The budget proposes to spend $10.9 million from various sources for the development and administration of the California Pupil Assessment Data System (CalPADS). Of this amount, the budget includes $3.2 million in non–Proposition 98 General Fund dollars. These funds are proposed to pay for the California Department of Education’s (CDE) operational costs ($1 million) and for hardware and software purchases and other development costs for the program ($2.2 million). The Governor's budget request is consistent with 2008‑09 costs outlined in CDE’s recently signed contract for the development of CalPADS.

The CalPADS system has been in the development process for several years. When complete, it will provide access to student–level information on state assessments, graduation and dropouts, and other data. As a result, CalPADS will provide significantly more information about the progress of students over time. According to the department, CalPADS will be operational in 2009.

We recommend approval of the amount proposed for CalPADS. We recommend, however, that the Legislature support the data system with federal funds rather than state General Fund monies. Given the state’s fiscal situation, the Legislature should take every opportunity to use federal funds in lieu of the state’s General Fund to pay for program activities in the coming year. Title VI is an appropriate funding source to pay for CalPADS. By substituting federal funds for non–Proposition 98 support for CalPADS, our recommendation would free–up $3.2 million that could be used for any General Fund program across the budget.

The $3.2 million in federal funds would come from two sources. First, the Legislature could use the $2.5 million in savings that would result from our recommendation to eliminate the norm–referenced tests in the STAR program. The other $700,000 in federal funds can be added to the budget without any corresponding program reductions because the Governor's Budget proposes to spend less in new Title VI funds than are available in the budget year.

Therefore, we recommend the Legislature reduce the department’s General Fund support item (6110–001–0001) by $3.2 million and augment the department’s federal fund support item (6110–001–0890) by the same amount.

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