Photo Gallery: The community reacts to Brown's state budget proposal
California's public schools are the big winners in Gov. Jerry Brown's "breakthrough" budget plan, with education leaders saying they hope to have the money to restore many of the public services gutted by years of recession.
With more revenue from the Proposition 30 tax initiative passed in November and an improving economy, officials for cash-strapped school districts, community colleges and public universities said they'll be able to stave off more cuts and stabilize their own operations.
Throughout Southern California, school officials on Thursday spoke of averting furloughs, minimizing layoffs and scheduling a full academic year. At the same time, there were concerns about Brown's proposal to shift adult education programs from school district control to the massive community college system.
The governor's budget also impacts how local governments in the Los Angeles area are able to provide health care services, with some officials questioning how they'll implement the federally mandated expansion of the Medi-Cal program for low-income residents.
Overall, however, Los Angeles-area officials and lawmakers seemed cautiously optimistic about the state's financial picture.
"For years, California has been the butt of jaded jokes and called a lost cause. Yet, we are emerging from the grip of financial crisis and keeping the California dream alive," said Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Van Nuys, who chairs the Assembly Budget Committee.
Under Brown's plan, California's school districts would get $56.2 billion in 2013-14, a $2.7 billion jump from this year. That would include repayment of $1.8 billion withheld from public schools since the financial crisis hit in2008, as well as increases in per-pupil funding.
Brown wants to change how that money is allocated, using a weighted formula that would pay school districts and charter schools a premium for disadvantaged students. That would be a boon to districts like Los Angeles, Fontana and Long Beach Unified, which have large numbers of low-income students and English-learners.
Brown last year proposed a weighted student formula, but it was was killed by lawmakers representing well-off districts who saw the change as unfair.
Gary Thomas, the schools superintendent for San Bernardino County, questioned whether Brown can muster the votes in the Legislature to change the funding formula.
"We know from the past that circumstances can change and impact what ultimately will be passed as the final budget," he said.
Brown also proposed allocating all the revenue from Prop. 39 - some $450 million next year - to fund energy-efficiency projects at K-12 campuses and community colleges. The goal is to build or modernize facilities that use renewable energy so districts can reduce their utility bills.
In addition, the governor wants to eliminate the spending restrictions on nearly $12 billion for categorical programs. The money would still flow to districts, but local officials could decide how it would be spent.
Leaders were divided on Brown's recommendation to shift adult education from school districts to community colleges, which would receive $300 million to run the programs.
"It was a surprise to me, but it's logical," said Bruce Baron, chancellor of the San Bernardino Community College District. "When you look at the redundancies in these parallel systems ... it's only logical that they'd be integrated."
State schools chief Tom Torlakson and officials in Los Angeles, however, had serious concerns.
Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris conceded the proposed shift is a "provocative issue" that will be debated as lawmakers begin the budget process. He foresees a system in which the $300 million would be divided among the 72 community college districts, with local officials determining how the money would be spent.
Yasmin Delahoussaye, a vice chancellor in the Los Angeles Community College District, said Brown's plan would likely mean significant cuts to local adult ed offerings.
"If we had to do this, there would be a much smaller program," she said. "People forget that in community colleges, (instructors) have a master's or doctorate degree. The cost of instruction alone would be cost prohibitive. There's no way we could provide the full range of services that LAUSD offers."
Harris and others, however, were pleased at the $197 million infusion that would allow the 112-campus system to enroll an additional 500,000 students who were turned away because of the budget crisis. He also hopes to expand online courses, creating a "virtual campus" that would help boost transfer and graduation rates.
Other higher education officials lauded Brown's proposal, which allocates an additional $125 million for both the the Cal State University and University of California systems.
The Cal State funding includes $10 million to develop online alternatives for popular courses.
Health care was another topic of debate, with questions about Brown's plan to implement the federal Affordable Care Act - the reform package known as Obamacare - by the 2014 deadline.
Diana Dooley, the state's Health and Human Services secretary, offered a positive view of Brown's proposal to expand Medicaid - which is offered in California as Medi-Cal - saying it would be "a significant relief on the system and is a relief to the counties."
She also called it a vast improvement from the "boom and bust roller coaster of the last many years."
Brown has earmarked $350 million for the program, provided that the federal government also matches those funds.
Staff Writers Susan Abram, Christina Villacorte, Kelly Puente and Beau Yarbrough contributed to this report.