Senate Budget Committee TestimonySuperintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson prepared remarks before the Senate Budget and Review Committee on February 28, 2013 in Sacramento.
Good morning, Senator Leno, Senator Emmerson, and members of the committee. Thank you for inviting me here today.
Let me start by thanking the Governor for his leadership on Proposition 30 and for a budget proposal that keeps the promise we made to California voters and begins to restore some of what our schools have lost.
Two years ago, I came before you and said that our schools were in a state of financial emergency. Last year, we faced the very real prospect of $6 billion in additional mid-year cuts. This year, I can say with growing confidence that the worst of California's school funding crisis is behind us.
It will take years to restore our education system to financial health. But as Superintendent over our 10,000 public schools, as a teacher, as a parent, and as a grandfather, it is an enormous relief that the budget proposal before you begins in earnest the work of putting our schools back on solid financial ground.
The great question you must all wrestle with is, now that we have this opportunity, how do we make the most of it? First, we must be mindful of the debts already owed to our schools and the fragile state of their finances.
Voters in every community rightly expect to see their schools benefit from the recovery they supported. Yet even today, 124 districts serving 2.1 million students remain in financial jeopardy. While that is down substantially from last year—when 188 districts were in negative or qualified status—we still have a long way to go. Districts are also facing up to $262 million in cuts under the federal sequester.
Given these circumstances, we must recognize and address the $20 billion in debt the state owes our schools, and I'm pleased the Governor's proposal takes a step in that direction by repaying $1.8 billion in deferrals.
But we must also recognize that Proposition 30—as crucial as it was—can only help restore school funding to the levels we saw before the fiscal crisis. It is not a panacea. Just as none of us was happy to see California slip to 49th in per-pupil funding, none of us should consider our work complete when we move up to 46th or 47th.
That's why I applaud Senator Leno for introducing SCA 3—which I am proud to sponsor —to allow communities to approve local investments by the same 55 percent majority needed for local school construction bonds.
We also need a statewide school construction bond for the 2014 ballot. These funds are virtually exhausted. With the challenge of Common Core implementation and the technology and classroom infrastructure it requires, we must focus on necessary school modernization for educational purposes.
With that in mind, let me now turn to the central feature of the Governor's proposal, the Local Control Funding Formula. First, I applaud the Governor's vision, and for seizing upon this historic opportunity to redesign our school funding system. The current system is impossible for the public—or even many experts—to understand. Many in the education community—myself included—welcome the opportunity to improve transparency, provide more local control, and direct greater resources to students with the greatest needs.
And so I urge the Legislature to embrace this opportunity, but to do so carefully. I support the Governor's proposals to, phase in changes as Proposition 98 grows, set base funding levels according to the costs and demands associated with different grade levels, and make Average Daily Attendance funding equal, whether a child attends a district school or a charter school.
But there are a wide range of policy issues that must also be resolved before I can fully support this vision. The first is fundamental—the role of the state—which must be clearly articulated, and designed to support local improvement.
I believe it's up to the state to set goals for student achievement, as well as for schools and districts. That requires:
- Monitoring student outcomes and progress on a more robust set of indicators.
- Operating the necessary, transparent data systems.
- Increasing focus on a wider set of vulnerable student populations beyond traditional demographic subgroups, such as foster youth, and pregnant and parenting students;
- Expanding and refining our measurements of school performance; and
- Developing and implementing the next generation of student assessments.
The state also needs to play a central role regarding school accountability. The Governor's proposal calls for each district to prepare a Local Control Accountability plan. But the requirements of those plans need to be thoughtfully considered and rigorous enough to stand up to regular monitoring.
In addition to the Governor's core components, these plans must provide for parent involvement, ensure equitable access to programs for all students; protect service delivery to disadvantaged populations; and provide clear guidelines on the identification, notification, service, and assessment of English learners.
The state also has an important role to play in maintaining the state's basic infrastructure for education and helping districts pursue ongoing shared goals, including:
- Training new teachers, principals, and administrators—an area of longstanding state concern that is even more important with the Common Core standards; and
- Education technology—including maintaining the current K-12 high-speed network and support systems; and
- Outreach and support for districts as they acquire new technology (CTAP)—efforts that are extremely important as we transition to computer-based assessments.
I also believe we have a continuing need to support career-technical education, including regional career-readiness programs.
We also need to continue to play an active role in helping districts address school safety concerns.
And the state must maintain its mandated standards in areas of statewide interest such as class size reduction, minimum school days and year, as well as standards aligned materials for all students, and parental involvement.
Finally, as part of considering the state's role in funding schools, we must also frankly address the issue of adequacy. With the passage of Proposition 30, no school or local educational agency should be forced to cut programs as a result of changes to funding formulas.
We must also keep in mind that setting a target-base funding level will indicate a state goal for funding. Is this the funding level we believe our schools deserve, or is there a longer-term target of adequacy we can and should strive for?
Let me make a few final points beyond the Local Control Funding Formula proposal. I also urge you to consider the importance of allowing every part of our education system to share in the recovery, starting with our early learning and care system.
Some of the deepest cuts during the recession were made in early learning. Collectively, the system sustained more than $1 billion in cuts over the last four years (25 percent). More than 165,000 preschool and child development slots were lost.
As devastating as the cuts have been, the work of this Committee and the Legislature kept them from being far worse. I thank you.
We know that investing in early learning pays off in the long run and without those investments, we put at risk the progress we hope to make through the Local Control Funding Formula.
It's no accident that President Obama made early learning a key component of his State of the Union address, calling for the nation to ensure all children have access to affordable, high-quality early learning opportunities.
Rather than treating these programs as one more issue to be bargained over in the latest realignment discussion, now is the time for us to commit ourselves to rebuilding California's early learning system, with this budget and in budgets to come.
We also need to move thoughtfully with regard to Adult Education—another area that has seen significant cuts.
I am concerned that severing the ties these programs have had with K-12 districts could diminish access for working parents and immigrant families. The adults served in these programs are often the parents of our K-12 students. These services have played a vital role in helping Californians learn English and receive the basic education they need to succeed in today's world—and preserving them is important for communities across California and for the state as a whole.
I embrace the Legislative Analyst Office's recommendations in this area and look forward to working Senator Liu, who is leading efforts in the Legislature to preserve and improve our adult education system.
Our schools earned the vote of confidence they got in November, and they deserve our support as they take on the challenges ahead. As difficult as things have been financially, our schools are doing amazing things, including embracing the new Common Core State Standards.
The Common Core represents a practical way to prepare children for the challenges of a constantly changing world—and learn step-by-step the real-world skills they need for career and college.
With new standards come new assessments—replacing outdated bubble tests with computer-based assessments that foster high-quality teaching and learning.
This is challenging work for us at the California Department of Education and for every school and district, but neither our schools nor the children they serve can wait.
California must move forward now so that all children—no matter where they come from or where they live—receive a world-class education and graduate ready to contribute to the future of our state.
We're on a path to creating a smarter and stronger California, and the decisions you make will make an enormous difference in the lives of our children. Thank you and I'll be happy to answer your questions.