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California Democrats at odds over allotment of education money

April 25, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
A showdown in Sacramento over education: In one corner, Governor Jerry Brown who wants to give billions of dollars to schools with high percentages of poor students. In the other corner: fellow Democrats who have some ideas of their own.

"We are going to stand our ground and make sure that it's done right," said state Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), the senate president.

"If people are going to fight it, they're going to get the battle of their lives," said California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat.

You don't see that often: Democrats fighting among themselves at the state Capitol.

On top of the $50 billion for K-12 education, Governor Brown wants to give roughly $2 billion more to school districts that have a higher concentration of poor and non-English-speaking students.

Senate Democrats unveiled a counterproposal that distributes the money more evenly. They say the governor's formula ignores sections of poverty within wealthy areas.

"If you're a poor kid who is in a district that is not considered poor, you don't get the benefit of the additional money," said Steinberg. "That creates a lot of invisible kids."

Steinberg's office says 36 percent of kids in Berkeley Unified, for example, are from low-income families. But the district would not qualify for the extra grant under the governor's plan.

The same is true for Torrance Unified, where 26 percent are from low-income families and 13 percent don't speak English fluently. Yet there's no extra money for them either.

State Senator Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles), who represents areas with a high Latino population, says there's a better way to overhaul school financing.

"They do need special focus," said De Leon. "They do need special attention. They need more resources. It's about money at the end of the day and how we use that money wisely."

Governor Brown insists his way is better.

"You spread it out to all the districts, it'll have a trivial effect. If you put it into the districts of high concentrations of poverty, it'll have a very powerful effect," said Brown. "This is a matter of equity and civil rights."

The governor and senate Democrats disagree over timing too. Brown wants the new funding formula to start this upcoming school year. Senators want to wait a year to make sure the change is done right.


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