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LAO Recommends 14 Changes in Legislation

By Jeff Hudson - December 5, 2008

The Legislative Analyst's Office released a "recommended legislation" proposal this week, designed to help the state "operate more effectively and efficiently."  The proposal contains 14 points of interest to K-12 educators.

On the financial side, the LAO proposes to "consolidate K-12 base revenue limits with seven categorical funding streams" into one base grant, which "would reduce district paperwork, clarify district funding levels and ensure future equalization adjustments reflect the base amounts that are actually provided to districts." The proposal also recommends "consolidating funds for K-3 and 9th-grade class size reduction (CSR) in the base grant" and loosening some restrictions on use of CSR funds.

On the program side, the LAO proposes a new "performance-based teacher accreditation system" by requiring teacher preparation programs to annually submit data on various outcomes and teacher performance, and then "using that information to annually assess program quality and target program support."

Another LAO proposal would consolidate 12 special education categorical programs (plus three "add-on" programs) into the per pupil special education funding formula, which would "provide agencies with additional flexibility . . . as well as clarify actual funding levels, promoting greater transparency."

The LAO also proposed a change in the K-12 Cost-of-Living Adjustment Index "to focus on employee compensation cost increases." The LAO notes that the current index "assumes roughly half of an agency's budget is devoted to employee compensation" – yet most school districts devote nearly 85 percent of their support budget to employee compensation.

Also recommended is a reform of the School Facilities Financial Hardship program. "A recent study found that many school districts that applied for the Financial Hardship Program were taking on short-term debt and temporarily transferring funds . . . to appear financially needy," the LAO said. "We recommend eliminating some existing eligibility criteria and replacing them with a measure of the assessed value of property within a district," thereby linking district match requirements to a district's ability to raise local revenue.

Additionally, the LAO recommended updating California's dual school improvement system for low performing schools. Currently, one system tracks schools for state purposes, while a second system tracks for federal purposes. The LAO recommends "an integrated system" that "unifies federal and state eligibility criteria, exit criteria and sanctions."

More freedom in the choice of instructional materials is the focus of another LAO recommendation. Noting that the current adoption process is "a complex maze," the LAO suggests "using fewer sets of evaluation criteria, streamlining the review process, offering districts a voluntary extension of already adopted materials for up to two consecutive cycles, and enhancing the quality and . . . collecting better information from expert reviewers."

Other LAO proposals include:

– Create a new mandate block grant, bringing together roughly 45 state-mandated programs.

– Reform the child care reimbursement rate structure to provide higher reimbursement rates for higher quality care, and recognize regional cost differences.

– Streamline child care and development contracting requirements, reducing the "chronic carryover of unspent funds."

– Reform the "inefficient" teacher credential and fingerprint process, which often results in teachers being fingerprinted three times by different agencies.

– Align student data disclosure authority with physical data control, allowing the California Department of Education to provide student data disclosure services on behalf of local educational agencies.

– Revise migrant education funding, replacing the current regionally-based model with a district-centered model.

– Enhance charter school oversight by permitting certain school districts – "especially those that are small, remote, or experiencing fiscal difficulties" – to opt out of authorizing charter schools.

Editor's Note: Jeff Hudson is the editor of EdBrief and an award-winning education reporter and writer in print, radio and television media.