As school districts across the central San Joaquin Valley choose how to spend extra money from Gov. Jerry Brown's new Local Control Funding Formula, one unforeseen snag is drawing questions from some districts: Where's the money for career technical education, which once totaled more than $330 million in dedicated funding?
The revenue shift passed by lawmakers last summer gives low-income districts more money each year — and wiggle room on how to spend the cash. But career education money — like several other categorical programs — was lumped into the general pot of education dollars under the new funding formula. Districts like Clovis Unified want to bring a good chunk of it back.
A bill sponsored by Assembly Member Nora Campos, D-San Jose, would do just that: The state would match every dollar a district spends on career education programs. Last week the Assembly Education Committee green-lighted the plan, which is now headed to that chamber's appropriations committee.
At an estimated cost of no more than $370 million, school officials argue the match would give districts an incentive to make career classes a priority.
"It's living within the intent of local control, but trying to sweeten the pot a little for those people who do want to continue, but they're not receiving enough money to continue (career education programs)," said Valerie Vuicich, Fresno County Regional Occupation Program and career education administrator.
Steve Ward, legislative analyst for Clovis Unified, said his biggest concern is how to fund career education now.
Because those once-dedicated dollars are now in the general fund, districts could choose to fill holes left by recession-era belt-tightening. Hiring back school counselors or lowering class sizes could suddenly look a lot more enticing than career education, he said.
Part of the new funding formula gives districts an extra $216 per high school student. Those dollars were initially intended to pay for career class expenses, but a later bill deleted that requirement, leaving districts to decide how to spend it.
Another complication: Even if districts wanted to spend all their money on career technical education, they won't get the full $216 per high school student until 2021. The education funding legislation escalates the amount of money in small increments until 2021.
By that time, Ward said, Clovis Unified will get approximately $2.2 million — about $600,000 more than it receives now.
In the meantime, districts will be scrambling to make up for the funding gap.
"I call it an unintended consequence," Ward said. "Like anything else when you get new legislation, new programs put on, not always is there time to look deeply at the new implications of doing something."
Campos' legislation is quickly garnering backing from districts statewide. Valley-based Bush Construction and the California Manufacturers and Technology Association have also signed on in support.
Now's the time to make the move, said Nancy LaCasse, associate vice president for School Services of California, a private consulting company.
Districts are required to spend as much money on career technical education this school year as they did in 2012-13, but that state mandate expires in 2015.
"Unless an alternative funding structure is established, many school districts may cease offering these programs," she said.
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