State Report Calls for Flexible Funding

A new report by the State Legislative Analyst’s Office says California should give its school districts more flexibility to use their funding as they see fit – the same kind of flexibility that the Long Beach Unified School District seeks with its proposed new state legislation, Senate Bill 1396.

The LBUSD bill continues to progress through the state Legislature, having cleared the Senate Education Committee by a 7-0 vote recently with bipartisan support.

The State LAO is California’s nonpartisan fiscal and policy advisor.

Some state funding sources for education, known as categorical funds, are earmarked for specific purposes.  While the state recently loosened some of those restrictions in light of ongoing cuts to education, LBUSD’s new bill would eliminate all existing restrictions on categorical funds, providing greater freedom and efficiency while helping to save jobs here.

The LAO likes what it has seen so far as school districts statewide have taken advantage of limited increases in flexibility.

“We found that the newly granted categorical flexibility was having a positive impact on many school districts’ ability to make certain decisions,” the LAO reports.  “The vast majority of districts reported that categorical flexibility made it easier to develop and balance a budget, dedicate resources to local education priorities, make staffing decisions, and fund programs for struggling students.”

The majority of school districts “appear to be using freed-up categorical funds to support core classroom instruction,” the LAO added.

LBUSD’s bill, recently introduced by Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, would relax spending restrictions on state funds for three eligible districts, including LBUSD, as part of a pilot program.  The bill includes measures to make sure funds are used properly.

The additional flexibility would allow LBUSD to take surplus funds from some programs and redirect them to other areas where the need is greater.  Such flexibility could help to prevent further job losses here.