Valley schools expect millions more from new state budget

The Fresno BeeJune 16, 2014 

Central San Joaquin Valley schools and universities will get a slice of millions more in state funding next school year, all part of a plan to ramp up support for low-income students, expand preschool and continue investments in higher education.

The extra funding is part of the $156.4 billion budget approved by the state Legislature on Sunday.

Clovis Unified officials say they're expecting at least $26.1 million more next year. Upward of $69 million extra is headed to Fresno Unified schools, administrators say. Sanger Unified anticipates $8.2 million more.

A big chunk of the extra money is intended for programs that support impoverished and foster students, plus children who are learning English. Districts like Fresno Unified, where large numbers of students live in poverty, are getting the additional cash under the state's revised education spending plan called the Local Control Funding Formula.

It's the second year lawmakers have used the new appropriation model. Fresno Unified got about $28 million more last year. School board members approved a plan this month to spend the money in part on career technical education, counselors and other education programs.

This year's state budget also offers $264 million for early childhood education, including adding more seats for preschoolers. The budget sets aside $250 million in state-funded grants for career technical education programs.

The state has also agreed to start paying down years-worth of outstanding bills owed to districts. Fresno Unified is owed at least $70 million, and administrators estimate the state will pay about $4.3 million of that total back this year. The state owes Clovis Unified about $28 million, district spokeswoman Kelly Avants said. No figures were immediately available for Sanger Unified and Central Unified.

But while schools are finally getting more after years of tough recession-era cuts, districts will be on the hook to pay down the state's $74 billion in unfunded teacher pension plans. The deal requires both districts and employees to pay more on a scale that escalates over the next seven years.

Fresno Unified's lobbyist, Bob Blattner, said that cost could total about 10% more than Fresno Unified pays now -- an estimated $30 million more -- by 2021. Employees will pay about 2.3% more than they do now, phased in over a three-year period.

Higher education

The budget also infuses millions for higher education, including $142.2 million to the California State University system. It's unclear whether Fresno State will get additional funds.

A related budget bill approved by lawmakers Sunday squashes university plans to increase so-called "student success" fees until 2016. Several CSUs have already OK'd such fees, which are intended to plug budget holes and pay for campus-specific needs like extended library hours or more advisers.

The much-maligned fees have taken heat from students and faculty on several CSU campuses for asking students and their families to shoulder more costs.

Sunday's move will keep universities from passing any similar fees for at least a year and a half.

Fresno State President Joseph Castro was proposing to raise yearly fees by around $100 per student, which he has said would raise an estimated $2.3 million. The dollars would have paid for more services like tutoring and advising, he's said.

On Tuesday, Castro said he's still waiting for more details on the measure.

"We are committed to enhancing the quality of our academic programs and to increasing our students' ability to graduate from Fresno State in a timely way," he said in an email to The Bee. "We will consider all viable options to accelerate these efforts in the months and years ahead."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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