Saturday, November 28 , 2015, 9:10 am | Fair 57º

School District Funding Expected to Take 8 Years to Return to Pre-Recession Levels

Local school officials are preparing for change under the state's new finance system

By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @magnoli |

The California Legislature’s new school funding formula estimates that it will take eight years to get districts back to pre-recession levels, but local districts aren’t sure what to expect with the new school finance system.

The Santa Barbara Unified School District, and other districts, passed their budgets for next year with a plan for level funding, although the Department of Finance estimates that districts will be back at 2007-08 levels, the highest pre-recession levels, by 2021-22.

After years of cuts, districts hope the new funding formula and Proposition 30 passing will stop the bleeding. Santa Barbara Unified expects to receive about $2.6 million from Prop. 30, the sales and income tax increase passed last November, and used funds this year to avoid cutting five days from the school year. It and many other South Coast districts also have capital bonds and parcel tax measures to supplement state funding.

State funding will now be portioned out with a “base grant” amount for each student per day, with additional money for districts with large populations of low-income and English-learner students.

The Legislature’s budget will fund training, materials and technology for Common Core State Standards implementations for two years, which is some additional money.

The Local Control Funding Formula is expected to pay an average of $7,640 per student in base grants.

Larger districts with high percentages of students eligible for free or reduced lunch, and English learners, should get thousands of dollars more per student by 2021-22, topping out around $10,000 per student.

Department of Finance estimates show that the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s funding per student would increase from about $7,000 per student per day currently to $10,400 by 2021, similar to other large districts in Santa Barbara County.

Cold Spring School and Montecito Union School are both one-school basic aid districts and won’t qualify for the supplemental or concentration grants due to very small numbers of low-income and English learner students.

“Basic aid” districts already receive more than the base level from the state due to high property tax revenues, so they expect level funding for the next eight years unless they have an increase in property values. Because of high property areas within the district boundaries, both districts already earn up to four times the amount per student that most local revenue-limit districts do.

Cold Spring School earns $18,759 and Montecito Union School earns $24,578 per student per day, and a big motivation for the new funding formula was to make funding more equitable.

“That’s a significant change, and not everything in public education and performance for our students is about money, but it’s really hard to do performance without money,” said Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara. “My entire life as a public servant, I doubted that we would ever be able to address some of the inherent inequities in public education.”

The increased base grant funding and supplemental grants will make a big difference for Santa Barbara and Ventura county schools, he said.

“A lot of people don’t think about Santa Barbara and Ventura as urban schools, but they are in terms of the characteristics demographically, with English learners and funding,” Williams said. “We have revenue-limit school districts that get the bottom level of funding that is possible to get, and the Local Control Funding Formula passed June 14 will change that.”

The Local Control Funding Formula also puts more money in the hands of local education leaders, said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara.

“Virtually all of the spending is going to be determined by schools,” she said, adding that more money was added to the community colleges budget, with goals to get back to pre-recession funding there as well.

K-12 districts have been cut so deep that legislators are hoping just to get back to the 2007-08 levels within eight years. Jackson wasn’t sure if the 2021 levels will still include deferrals — the state holding onto money it owes districts for months or years at a time.

Districts won’t be made whole until all of the deferrals are paid back with cost-of-living adjustments, education leaders have said.

Districts all over the state have been borrowing money in the form of TRANs — Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes — to keep the lights on and paychecks going out while they wait for deferred state money.

The budget does include several billion dollars to pay down some of the debt in deferred payments to education and other state departments.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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