Hearing offers clues on spending
State lawmakers discuss declining enrollment and ways to ease ADA concerns
January 10, 2022
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A recent Legislative hearing discussed the challenges school districts are facing around absenteeism and provided some clues on how state lawmakers might spend what is expected to be another record-breaking budget for 2022-23.
The Assembly Budget Sub-Committee No. 2 on Education Finance and Assembly Education Committee held a joint informational hearing Nov. 30 on Pandemic Response Oversight: Learning Recovery, Chronic Absenteeism and Enrollment Loss. Although campuses are open, student enrollment and attendance has dropped significantly in what was has been called a “student engagement crisis.”
Representatives from Attendance Works, California Collaborative for Educational Excellence and the Legislative Analyst’s Office made presentations during the hearing. School administrators also shared the various challenges they are facing in the field and discussed with state lawmakers and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond ways to address attendance and its resulting impacts on school funding.
Iván Carrillo with Capitol Advisors and ACSA Legislative Advocate Megan Baier joined the ACSA Legislative Lunch Break on Dec. 1 to break down what they heard during the hearing.
“The word that I think got used the most during the hearing was ‘opportunity,’ and that very much tied back to what we’re anticipating with budget revenues,” Carrillo said.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office has estimated that nearly $20 billion can be allocated to K-14 education in the governor’s preliminary 2022-23 budget, which had not been released as of press time. That’s on top of a Prop. 98 guarantee of $11.6 billion, which is 12.4 percent above the previous year’s budget.
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Carrillo said the data on ADA loss and chronic absenteeism suggests that the biggest enrollment dips are seen in the earliest grades, as well as for students of color and homeless and foster youth.
“There’s very much a sensitivity and a focus on re-engaging unduplicated count students, and making sure that they’re identified and they’re being served well, so that certainly will be the lens that the Legislature is looking through as it’s making its decisions on budget and policies,” Carrillo said.
Based on what he’s hearing, Carrillo thinks it unlikely that lawmakers will extend the hold harmless provision that has kept districts’ ADA-based funding stable over the last two school years.
“But there is some interest and a lot of conversation around how to soften that ADA blow, for those who are experiencing loss,” he said.
One idea is to have enrollment-based funding, which comes with some pros and cons, said Baier.
“A move to enrollment-based funding doesn’t bring new resources into the system,” she said. “It actually moves money from one district to the other. And it does create winners and losers. … An enrollment-based model isn’t actually going to do anything to help with our declining enrollment and long-term fiscal stability conversation.”
She said one concern about enrollment-based funding is having an accountability measure to make sure districts are doing everything they can to get students into the classroom daily.
“Lawmakers are right. We do have a historic opportunity. We do have historic revenues. I think the key point to make to them is it matters what they choose to do with it.”
— Megan Baier, ACSA Legislative Advocate
With the perception that schools are flush with state funding, Baier said ACSA members can contact their Legislative representatives to explain how declining enrollment is still hurting districts’ finances.
“Lawmakers are right. We do have a historic opportunity. We do have historic revenues. I think the key point to make to them is it matters what they choose to do with it,” Baier said. “If they put those funds in your base, it’s going to allow you to meet a lot of the needs. If they create new programs and earmark those dollars for different things that don’t allow you to support the staff that you have and the educators you have, that’s going to create real fiscal challenges. So I think the best thing you can do is try to connect and share those local stories with the members.”
ACSA Senior Director of Governmental Relations Edgar Zazueta said a big part of ACSA’s advocacy will be to remind lawmakers that while the new programs they created have merit, increasing the LCFF base will benefit all California students.
“We have to invest in the foundation and the way that you raise all boats is really making some key targeted investments in the base grant,” he said. “Frankly, it benefits everybody regardless of your unduplicated count, even those that have higher supplemental concentration rates, it’s a percentage of the base grant. So that, we really feel, is a good way to target new funding into the system.”
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