SACRAMENTO -- As he had hinted he would do, Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday morning promised to increase K-12 funding for 2013-14 and to overhaul the decades-old complicated formulas that award some schools vastly more than what similar schools receive.
Brown's 2013-14 budget proposes a $1.89 billion boost in K-12 funding over this year, a 4 percent increase for programs. In addition, the state would pay back $1.8 billion that it owes districts from previous years. The increased budget is made possible by a sunnier economy and the voters' passage of his Proposition 30 last fall.
While the budget is encouraging, education advocates say that the proposal takes only a small step toward restoring programs after five years of cuts and toward adequately funding K-12 education.
"We don't think there's any better way to revitalize California than by investing in education," said Stephen McMahon, San Jose Unified's new chief business officer. "At the same time, we're not dancing in the streets."
He noted that public schools spend about half the $20,000 yearly that some local private schools charge for tuition, yet every student deserves a high-caliber education.
Schools stand out amid a generally good-news state budget. Education, Brown said, is "a social program that will give us the biggest return on our investment."
Under the governor's proposal, similar to an idea he floated last year but withdrew amid a tide of opposition, schools
Brown also promised to give more control to local school boards, partly by freeing them from directions to provide particular programs such as education for the gifted and smaller class sizes for primary students.
The California State PTA applauded Brown's direction.
"We support the idea of making the overall funding system more rational and looking at how these funds are distributed," said Carol Kocivar, State PTA president. But she noted that it's important to ascertain whether the proposal increases funding to schools, or only redistributes it.
"The PTA feels the need for a very, very strong commitment to moving California out of the basement of education funding," she said.
The centerpiece of Brown's schools budget focuses on awarding schools more for certain types of students. It is harder to educate students in Richmond or Compton, he said, than to teach students in Los Gatos or Piedmont. "That is controversial but it is fair, it is right and it is just."
The formula is also intended to reduce historic and irrational funding disparities among districts. But those with strong property tax revenues regard the governor's idea warily. The San Mateo Union High School District, which funds much of its program with local property-tax revenues rather than with state funds, lost $5.7 million to state cuts this year, and doubts any of that will be repaid, Deputy Superintendent Elizabeth McManus said.
"We're cautiously optimistic, but we're waiting for more details about what will happen," she said. The 8,000-student district spends more per pupil than Brown's proposed new funding floor for schools, so in the state's eyes San Mateo Union wouldn't deserve additional funds.
Nick Schweizer of the state Department of Finance insisted that the state will not take money from any district. "We're telling everyone you keep the monies you have today," he said.
While comparatively well-off, the district is not swimming in wealth, McManus said. Until receiving a 2 percent raise this year, employees went five years without a cost-of-living increase. "Things are improving, but it's not like this is the dot-com boom," McManus said. By redividing education's budget pie, Brown would create winners and losers, and the many districts with strong property tax revenues fear they will eventually end up with less.
Local school officials also point out that the state ignores regional cost variations, to the detriment of expensive Peninsula and South Bay areas.
But overall, the governor said that while characterizing his job as saying "no" to various constituencies, "We're saying yes to education."
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.