12/19/2014

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Local & Regional

Governor's plan gives big money to close education gap

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California schools will receive an infusion of more than $3.6 billion in extra money this year, much of it targeted to the neediest students as part of a redistribution plan pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The governor hopes that dramatically reshaping how state aid is handed out will correct decades of inequality between districts. He also wants to give local schools much of the decision-making responsibility about how the money is spent.

Whether the additional money will actually help close the longstanding achievement gap between poor and minority students and their counterparts hinges almost entirely on how the money is spent. Yet just days before lawmakers are expected to begin voting on the budget Friday, there is little guidance for them to follow.

The Legislature, which is dominated by Democratic lawmakers with close ties to the state's powerful teachers unions, appears likely to avoid attaching rigorous standards to the extra money, possibly pushing many of the decisions regarding oversight and accountability to the appointed state Board of Education. That worries advocates for education reform.

"It concerns us that so many of these critical issues are being punted in some ways to the state Board of Education," said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of The Education Trust-West, which advocates for poor and minority children.

He said lawmakers need to include strict language in the state budget for fiscal transparency, parental involvement and accountability to ensure the money is spent as intended — to directly benefit disadvantaged students.

"Without those three things, the public's going to say, 'You gave a bunch of money to poor kids. What happened to it, and what benefits did it produce?'" Ramanathan said.

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