This is an excerpt of On Assignment, education writer Theresa Harrington's blog on Contra Costa County schools. Read more and post comments at IBABuzz.com/onassignment. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa or Facebook.com/TheresaHarringtonBANG.
School officials around the state will spend the next several days reading through Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed 2014-15 budget to see how it will directly affect their districts. For those with a high percentage of low-income students and English learners, the new funding formula that gives them a greater share of the money is good news.
The West Contra Costa school district based in Richmond, along with the Oakland school district in Alameda County, are both looking forward to receiving additional funding expected to help them narrow the achievement gap.
Charles Ramsey, president of the West Contra Costa school board, said the money for low-income students and English language learners will make a big difference.
"There's going to be a huge proportion of resources dedicated to assisting them," he said. "It's going to be a quantum change in funding for our district. We're going to see a doubling of funding for those students over time."
In the next couple of years, Ramsey said funding is expected to increase to $10,600 or $10,700 per student, with an additional $104 million expected by 2021, after the funding formula is fully implemented.
The West Contra Costa school board has already decided to spend some of its new money on school resource officers, reducing class size in Transitional Kindergarten through third grade and creating "full service community schools" that include health centers. Ramsey said trustees are also considering allocating $1 million to $2 million more to athletics and setting aside additional funding for music and other programs that have been cut in the past.
"We want to be able to provide kids opportunities so they can learn," he said. "We need to give more of our resources to the kids for the classroom. I give the governor a lot of credit to keep education at the forefront, because California has lagged."
In addition, Ramsey said he wants to devote more funding to professional development to help teachers implement the new Common Core standards, along with the technology needed for testing. He was also pleased that the district has recently settled a contract agreement with teachers that included salary increases.
"We need to do more to really attract people to the industry and recruit and retain qualified teachers," he said.
And Ramsey said the district is not shying away from its required accountability. The state Board of Education is fine-tuning guidelines that districts will be required to follow in developing plans for their spending.
"They want to see the kind of improvement we can have," Ramsey said. "But, they're not going to hold your feet to the fire right away. They're going to give you a few years to show that it's going to be successful."
During the next month, the district is inviting community members to attend one of six meetings to get more information about state funding and discuss how it can be used to implement goals outlined in a recently-adopted strategic plan.
These meetings are from 6:30-8 p.m. Jan. 15 at El Cerrito High; Jan. 16 at Ford Elementary; Jan. 21 at Pinole Middle School, Jan. 28 at DeJean Middle School, Jan. 30 at De Anza High, and Feb. 6 at Hercules Middle-High School.
Troy Flint, spokesman for the Oakland school district, said Thursday that he hadn't had a chance yet to look at the governor's budget in detail, but he pointed out that Oakland has been a strong supporter of the funding shift that gives more money to districts with disadvantaged students.
"Nothing's perfect, particularly when you have to satisfy different constituencies in a diverse state," he said. "This is a huge step forward for equity and for public education. This is the first time in many years, if ever, that funding has actually been aligned with student needs and that the value of equity has been placed front and center, with redistributed funds."
Flint predicted this approach would end up benefiting the state as a whole, because struggling students will get the resources and help they need to succeed in college and the work force.
"We're very pleased with the direction the governor has taken," he said. "We think this budget is going to produce great results for our kids and for kids around the state."