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Assembly Budget Subcommittee Testimony

Prepared remarks of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson before the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education regarding Proposition 98 on February 25, 2014 at the State Capitol in Sacramento.

Good morning and thank you, Assembly Member Muratsuchi (chair) and Assembly Member Chavez (vice chair).

It is a pleasure to speak with you this morning. As I said when Governor Brown released his proposal last month, this budget builds upon California's recommitment to ensuring that every child graduates ready for careers and college.

It is not only the additional funding that I believe will strengthen this vital work, but it is the entirely new approach to the way we fund our schools: the Local Control Funding Formula.

I cannot emphasize this enough: the best decisions about how to spend education dollars are made by teachers, administrators, and parents—they are made by the school communities themselves.

That is why I am pleased by the additional $4.5 billion in Proposition 98 funding for the Local Control Funding Formula. It represents more than a quarter of the remaining gap in full LCFF funding for school districts. It fully funds county offices of education for the implementation of the new formula.

A key aspect of the budget proposal is the $5.5 billion that will allow districts to finally face starting a school year in 2014-15 with deferrals repaid.

There could be no better time as schools continue the challenging—but very necessary—work of implementing LCFF, LCAP, and Common Core State Standards.

As you know, last year saw a welcome $1.25 billion block grant for schools to use to implement the Common Core State Standards—a smart choice for preparing our children for college and careers, and one that benefits from professional development, improved technology, and new curriculum materials.

This will be important this spring, as schools launch a 12-week field test of the new Smarter Balanced assessments. As the sponsor of  last year's Assembly Bill 484, I can tell you that the point of this field test is to "test the test" before we test the students—to know how well individual items are designed and to see what schools further need in terms of training or technological capacity.

We have an opportunity—a one-year window—to be fully prepared for the new system going operational in March 2015. That is why I firmly believe that additional dollars realized in the May Revise should go toward a significant second block grant for implementation of the new standards.

What good is this learning opportunity if we don't provide schools the resources to act on what they learn in the field tests?

I am also hopeful that this year's budget will ultimately begin replacing some of what has been cut from our early education programs—some billion dollars and 165,000 early learning slots over the past few years.

And beyond simply replacing what has been lost, I want to see California maintain its leadership in early education by strengthening the system overall. Universal transitional kindergarten—opening the door to all 4-year-olds in California—will be a big part of these conversations over the next few months.

Multiple studies have borne out in multiple ways the simple truth that investing in early education is a smart choice for our society and our economy. Strong early education opportunities not only boost future academic success, but these young learners are also less likely to commit crimes or to be unemployed.

Let me address one further point, now on school facilities. I am glad to announce that I am co-sponsoring Assembly Member Buchanan's Assembly Bill 2235 to put a school facilities bond on the ballot this November. I look forward to working with the author and the administration to determine the right level of funding.

It has been nearly eight years since our last school bond, and our school facilities program has been on life support over the last few years. But consider that almost a third of our school buildings are at least 50 years old. One in 10 is at least 70 years old. A full 70 percent are at least 25 years old. And we have about 75,000 portable buildings in use.

Overall, we have come a long way from three years ago—when I declared a state of financial emergency for our schools—but we still have a long way to go.

I'm committed to seeing LCFF fully funded over the next few years, and this year's proposal is a good indicator that we are well on our way. But keep in mind that this marks the beginning of the marathon, not the finish line.

As we keep an eye to the future—and our schools—we would be well served by remembering that Californians across the state know that children deserve every tool and opportunity to thrive inside the classroom and out.

I'll continue working with Governor Brown, you, and your colleagues in the Legislature over the coming months and years to make sure that education remains the top priority in the state budget.

Questions: Communications Division | communications@cde.ca.gov | 916-319-0818 
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