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Assembly Budget Subcommittee Testimony

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson's prepared remarks before the Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 1 on Education Finance on March 5, 2013 in Sacramento.

Good morning, Chair Bonilla and Vice-Chair Chavez, 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. Agonizing choices had to be made by this committee, the Legislature and our schools. 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, as a teacher, as a parent, and as a grandfather, it is an enormous relief that the budget proposal before us begins in earnest the work of putting our schools back on solid financial ground.

The great question you must all tackle is, now that we have this opportunity, how do we make the most of it? How do we further stabilize our schools, and restore programs that we know work?

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 and from the investment they made with their "yes" votes.

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 $214 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.

I'm also pleased that Californians voted to provide new revenues for green facilities and job creation (Proposition 39). I strongly support the Governor's proposal to focus this short term green investment in our schools and community colleges. I am committed to working with the Administration and Legislature to make this program flexible and yet carefully crafted to meet the intent of the voters and use funds effectively in the schools that need it most.

But we must also recognize that Proposition 30 and Prop. 39—as important as they were—can only help restore school funding to the levels we saw before the fiscal crisis. They are no 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'm proud to sponsor SCA 3—a constitutional amendment 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 to understand. Even the experts often disagree. Almost all of us in the education community 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:

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:

And 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 needs 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 for English Learners, provide clear guidelines on the identification, notification, service and assessment of these students.

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:

And 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? And of course, my answer is yes.

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, Speaker Perez 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 with members 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. I am glad to be working with Assembly Member Bonilla as she carries my sponsored legislation to reauthorize and update California's assessments system.

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.

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