Gov. proposes ‘painful reductions’

01.09.2012 | Morgan Hill Times | Angela Ruggiero

If Governor Jerry Brown gets his way, about 125,000 transitional kindergarten students statewide will be left without a place to go in fall 2012.

In his early proposed budget release last Thursday, Brown projected a decrease of $223.7 million from the general fund to reflect the elimination of the transitional kindergarten instruction, or as Morgan Hill Unified School District has come to know it, Preppy-K.

“We’re making some very painful reductions,” Brown said at the press conference.

Per the Kindergarten Readiness Act signed into law 2010, California schools changed the kindergarten entry date so children would enter kindergarten at age 5. Those with their fifth birthdays between September and Dec. 2 would be placed into transitional kindergarten, giving the “young-fives” an extra year to prepare to pass kindergarten.

MHUSD got an early start to Preppy K and is currently running a voluntary pilot program at El Toro Elementary with 26 Preppy-K students. The full statewide transition will be completed by the 2014-15 school year, when all children will need to be 5 years old when entering kindergarten. Students are given two years to pass kindergarten to allow retention if agreed upon by both teacher and parents. Funding was therefore coming from the back-fill of money lost from those young fives who were not attending kindergarten as they would under the Dec. 2 birthday cutoff.

Brown proposes eliminating the transitional kindergarten program, but the minimum age requirement to enter kindergarten would remain. This means about 125,000 young fives will be denied access to public education, said Deborah Kong of Preschool California, a non-profit advocacy organization,

“So either their parents are going to have to find private programs or stay at home,” said Kong. “This is the largest number of students in history who will not have access to public education.”

Cuts and bruises

And the bad news kept on rolling at the governors press conference that came five days earlier than expected because of an early release online. If voters don’t approve a tax increase in November, K-12 education can see a possible $4.8 billion in cuts. That’s the equivalent to more than the cost of three weeks of instruction.

In December, the Governor announced $327.6 million in cuts to K-12 education and community colleges, much less than the $1.4 billion estimated by the Legislative Analyst’s Office in November. MHUSD prepared itself for the cut by setting aside $250 per pupil. They took a non-instructional furlough day in October to save $250,000 and cut 21 teaching jobs, 15 of them due to retirement or attrition.

Deputy Superintendent of MHUSD Bonnie Tognazzini did not respond to questions regarding the proposed budget before press time. She will attend a meeting Jan. 17 “to find out what that means to the districts in California,” she said in an email Monday.

If voters do pass the proposed tax initiative in November, funding for K-12 will increase to $52.5 billion, up $4.9 billion from 2011-12. The assumed revenue from the tax increase would provide an additional $6.9 billion for education programs including school districts, charter schools and county offices of education to more than six million students statewide.

Average Daily Attendance is expected to increase statewide by an additional 20,734 students in K-12 in 2012-13 for a total of 5,970,775. Special Education will see an increase of $12.3 million because of this ADA growth.

Another proposed increase of $50.3 million may come to California charter schools, due to an increase in charter school growth. Charter schools receive funds per ADA the same as district schools do. The Santa Clara County Board of Education approved 20 new charter schools to seven school districts in the county. Morgan Hill currently has two charters: Charter School Morgan Hill and Silicon Valley Flex Academy.

Brown also wants to give school districts more freedom, he said at the press conference, referencing Mao Zedong by saying “Let a thousand flowers blossom.” His budget proposes a weighted pupil funding formula that will consolidate categorical programs and revenue limited funding into a single source of funding. Currently, each of the 60 programs (such as class reduction for K-3rd grade or school safety and violence prevention) has a specific financial allocation. The new formula would combine resources to schools and distribute funds based on need, giving school districts more flexibility in how to spend or save.

“My general philosophy, is that we should be giving more discretion to counties, to cities, and to school districts. That means, if they think they can save some money by adding a few kids to a class, instead of something else, then they can do that. That’s their choice,” said Brown. “We will have a core civil rights, a fundamental core requirements, but instead of 60 categorical programs, we want to reduce it as much as possible.”

Kinsella foresees fee increases

Gavilan College will see an increase in per-unit fees, now up to $46 starting in summer 2012 because of trigger cuts to the 2011-12 budget. President Steve Kinsella said he foresees more of these types of increases in the future.

“Now that the state has started to do (fees increases), they will continue it for awhile,” Kinsella said Friday. “Folks look at us and say we should stop doing that, but we have no control over it. It’s all established by the state; they tell us what were going to do with the fees and that’s what we do.”

Kinsella said if funding continues to decrease, he predicts Gavilan will have to start a filtering process because too many students want to attend.

“It’s at the point where we are denying access to a lot of people,” Kinsella said. “We’re the one in higher education among all of the others where access was really our primary objective, because we serve 100 percent of the students that come to us and that’s not possible anymore. That’s really disheartening to see.”

Gavilan currently has an enrollment of about 6,500 full and part-time students. An increase of $218.3 million to the 2012-13 budget to California Community Colleges will restore funding that had been previously deferred, if the Governor’s tax initiative is passed.

In May, the Governor and the Department of Finance will release a revised budget and by this summer legislators will vote to approve a balanced budget.

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