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District's Funding Bill Clears Hurdle

A school funding flexibility bill initiated by the Long Beach Unified School District has cleared the Senate Education Committee by a 7-0 vote with bipartisan support.

LBUSD partnered with State Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) to introduce the bill, SB 1396, in February as a way to mitigate ongoing, multi-billion-dollar cuts in state funding for education.  The school district also hopes to use the legislation to save jobs here, as hundreds of LBUSD teachers and other employees face layoffs for next school year.

SB 1396 relaxes regulations on the spending of "categorical funds," which are allocated via strict state funding formulas that earmark dollars for specific educational programs.  School districts have long argued that because of the inflexibility regarding the use of these funds, public schools cannot efficiently manage their resources.

The Education Committee's Chair, Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), asked to be added as a co-author of the bill.  The bill will be heard next in the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego).  That 11-member committee will likely take up the bill within the coming days.

"We thank senators Romero, Lowenthal and their fellow legislators who, by supporting our bill, recognize that we can no longer defend the status quo," said Christopher J. Steinhauser, LBUSD superintendent of schools.

"It's time to give our schools the flexibility we need to make the best use of our increasingly limited resources,” Steinhauser said.  “This bill will create a pilot program with great accountability, and it will help us to accelerate the closing of achievement gaps."

Sen. Lowenthal called SB 1396’s passage by the committee “a small victory for students, teachers and school districts,” describing the bill as “a starting point for an honest debate for the future of education funding.

“Frankly, I believe that debate is long overdue,” Lowenthal said.  “Categorical program funding, coupled with budget cuts to education have jeopardized student programs as well as teacher jobs by tying the hands of how school districts may spend their money.”

The bill will allow school districts to better address local needs, as long as the districts continue to meet state benchmarks on student achievement, the senator said.

“I truly believe this program will demonstrate that state money for categorical programs can be managed more efficiently and responsibly at the local level while making progress in closing the achievement gap and saving teacher jobs,” Lowenthal said.

The pilot program will begin in 2011 and run through 2014.  The participating school districts must demonstrate measurable student progress and annually report to state officials.