Brown Cut Only 1% of School “Earmarks”

JUNE 7, 2011

By WAYNE LUSVARDI 

The word “mandate” sounds like something absolutely essential and mandatory. However, when it comes to school funding “mandates” in California, it is no guarantee that what is being described is an essential job or program.  

Mandates are political designations for “categorical” ancillary jobs or programs and do not fund core teachers or administrators in California’s public school system.

The editor of this website, Steven Greenhut, prefers to call them “budget fluff” or “earmarks.”

Putting it about as diplomatic as he can, the California Legislative Analyst calls public school mandates “a broken system.”  
The Urban Dictionary online calls a government-funding mandate “a euphemism for a bribe.”  Other more vulgar definitions are: “a viral mechanism for getting political ‘whores’ to vote for bad policy” and “a corrupting policy of political enticements to manipulate the legislature into self-serving, palm greasing, government expansion and treasury looting.” 

The average “Joe” and “Jane” would probably simply call it “political pork.”

Even though “categorical funding mandates” do not necessarily include all pork, it is difficult if not impossible for the public to distinguish the fat from the meat in school budgets for funding “mandates.”

Brown Cut Only 1 percent of Earmarks

Despite all the outcries in the media by public school advocates that the “sky was falling” on K-12 school budgets, Gov. Jerry Brown only cut 1 percent of the funding “mandates” from his proposed 2011-2012 state budget.  

According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) report “K-14 Mandates: Governor’s May Revision Proposal” (dated May 27, 2011), Brown eliminated “half” of all K-14 public school mandates from his May Revise State Budget Proposal, achieving $96 million in cost savings.  Brown also shifted $13 million from certain mandates to other “mandates.” 

What the LAO apparently didn’t report, however, was that the half of the funding “mandates” that were cut reflected only 1 percent of the $7.4 billion in potential cuts for all mandates in a 2008 LAO report titled “Categorical Reform.”

Brown actually increased total K-12 school funding for the 2011-2012 fiscal year by $2,040,917 in his May Revise Budget, mainly due to an apparent rise in one-time capital gains taxes. Sacred cows such as child nutrition, adult education, day schools, music block grants, charter schools and English language education were not cut in Brown’s May Revise budget.  However, funds designated for class-size reductions in elementary schools were apparently cut.

Back in 2009 the State Legislature cut $4.5 billion from the “mandate” funding system for K-12 schools under Assembly Bill AB 4-X-2, equating to  $731 per student in avoided costs statewide. In other words, cutting out funding mandates in the 2010 fiscal year was equivalent to a statewide school parcel tax of $731 per student per year.  The average school parcel tax in the state is about $300 per student/year.

“Mandates” Being Shifted into a Block Grant

State Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, chairwoman of the Education Committee, has floated a draft bill, AB 18,  which would reform K-12 school funding formulas by replacing the existing “mandate” system with block grants.

A “block grant” is a grant of funds for discretionary use. It allows schools to decide how the money should be spent within a broad category of funds. By contrast, “earmarks” are politically protected narrow categories of funds or job descriptions often meant to buy political patronage and votes. Block grants are a way of saying to school districts that they have to select what programs and jobs they want to fund. In a time of austerity, that means they can’t pig out at the cafeteria of possible programs and fund them all.

The sky isn not falling” on school district budgets, despite school district press releases and media reports to the contrary.  Yes, the “ceiling” of school funding has been decreased since 2009. But the “floor” of mandated costs has also been reduced to offset the cuts.  The mainstream media has conveniently only reported the “revenue” side of the state K-12 education budget not the “expenditure” side as well.

For those school districts that still plan to put a parcel tax to a vote of the electorate within their district, there continues to be little in the way of justification for such a tax.

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  1. econprof
    econprof 7 June, 2011, 16:20

    Aren’t school enrollments falling all over the state? I’ve read of big outflows from the public schools esp. in certain areas like the Inland Empire. Causes are families leaving the state, or opting for home-schooling or private schools.
    If true, above figures for total education spending for CA would show bigger actual increases in PER PUPIL amounts. They call this austerity?

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