Simitian: State school budget not based in reality

Simitian tells school officials in Palo Alto that governor is

This year's state budget for education is the "least reality-based proposal" state Sen. Joe Simitian has seen from the governor in the 10 years he's been in state office, he told a packed audience in Palo Alto Saturday.

He said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is "out of answers" in terms of resolving a continuing state budget crisis that is seriously impacting school districts throughout the state.

The good news is Schwarzenegger proposed no major cuts to education in his 2010-2011 budget unveiled Jan. 8, Simitian, D-Palo Alto, told regional school leaders at the Palo Alto Unified School District headquarters.

There's plenty of bad news, well publicized, about the current state school-budget crisis.

The "scary" news is that things will get worse next year, Simitian said.

He said by July 1, 2011, $10 billion in revenue from temporary taxes -- a major chunk of the state's $83 billion general fund -- will disappear, with a huge impact on K-12 education, Simitian said.

The event attracted more than 100 school board members and administrators from Santa Cruz to Belmont.

In his nearly 10 years in the legislature, Simitian said this year's is "the least reality-based budget proposal I've seen from the governor.

"I think the governor is out of answers," he said. "It's just where we are. A lot of the gimmicks have already been used up."

Some California districts may win a slice of President Barack Obama's $4.3 billion "Race to the Top" education funding now that Schwarzenegger has signed education reforms demanded by federal officials to qualify for the funds.

Key among those are provisions for "open enrollment," "parent empowerment" and not precluding the use of student-achievement data in evaluating teachers.

The use of student-achievement data to evaluate teachers would be subject to a district's collective bargaining agreements with teachers' unions.

Simitian described legislative maneuvering over terms of the parental empowerment and open enrollment language, which permits students from low-performing schools to move to another public school inside or outside the student's district.

Although details of the rules are not yet clear, trustees of East Palo Alto's Ravenswood City School District have expressed concern that some of their schools could fall into the low-performing category, resulting in a student exodus.

And Palo Alto school board members have expressed concerns about capacity and funding for extra students.

Simitian described a legislative settlement he believes will give receiving districts ability to deny entry if a district lacks capacity for extra students or if the incoming students would create "adverse financial impact." The legislation also gives the receiving district 70 percent of the state funding allocated for the transferring student.

"Obama's view is, 'It's time we confront some of the failures of the system,'" Simitian said.

"There's no denying that far too many kids in this state have been failed for far too long.

"With respect to open enrollment, do I think kids who've been failed year after year after year ought to be given a chance to get out and get a better program? I do.

"But it's important to do that in a way that doesn't turn the world upside down for other classrooms and other kids," Simitian said.

He said most of the "Race to the Top" funds "are likely to be targeted to schools that are struggling.

"It very much varies from one district to another whether they want to step into the program and whether it's worth the strings that will be attached," he said.

The Palo Alto Board of Education has decided not to apply for Race-to-the-Top funds, while Ravenswood has indicated it will apply.

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