EDITORIAL: Brown's school funding reform merits support

State legislators have five days to meet the constitutional deadline for passing a budget. It could be legacy time.

The state constitution makes education a top priority. The Legislature "shall provide" for "a system of common schools" because "a general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence" is "essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people."

Yet our education finance system does not reflect that. For several decades, California has not had an education finance system adequate to meet the state's needs.

In his most ambitious overhaul effort yet, Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed to dramatically change how California funds education. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, D-Los Angeles, in their final years in the Legislature, should get behind the governor's effort.

Brown's idea is to replace state-mandated categorical programs with a new formula that provides a basic level of funding, with additional money for disadvantaged students and those learning English.

Unfortunately, the Senate and Assembly have versions that would lop off key elements of the governor's plan and, worse, keep in place some of the categorical programs that add enormous complexity and inflexibility to our education funding system.

Legislators should resist the temptation to tinker Brown's formula into nothingness. That said, the governor also needs to be open to fine-tuning his plan to address criticisms that it will leave many suburban school districts with too little money for their disadvantaged students.

The principle behind Brown's proposal is that funding should be driven by student needs. Here is a look at his three-part formula:

Base: 80 cents of each state education dollar would go toward per-pupil funding for all students to cover the basic costs of education -- teachers, principals and staff, textbooks and materials, adequate facilities.

Supplement: 16 cents of each dollar would go toward extra per-pupil funding for students who come from lower-income families or who are learning English.

Concentration: Poor students in high-poverty schools face greater education challenges than poor students in more affluent schools, a double disadvantage, so 4 cents of each dollar would go toward grants for school districts with high numbers of disadvantaged students.

Legislators should share Brown's urgency to reform education funding and reject the one-year delay the Senate proposes. They should also get on board with holding districts accountable for academic outcomes that include measures of students' preparedness for career and college.

Californians shouldn't delude themselves that changing the funding formula will solve all of the state's education problems. But Brown's proposal would be a big stride forward.