"We have some of the most poorly funded schools in the country, and the state needs to redesign our funding model in a way that brings all districts up to the national average," Roth said.
One of the most controversial parts of Brown's proposal last year gave districts an additional boost if more than half of students qualify as low-income or English learners. The idea was that a concentration of at-risk students dramatically increases need.
"There's a greater totality of needs if you have a school with 95 percent of students that need intervention than if you have 2 percent of students," said Brooks Allen, director of education advocacy for ACLU of Southern California, which has been fighting to ensure low-income schools receive additional aid. "We thought that was a strength of the proposal."
But suburban districts think the "concentration grant" goes too far. In Ventura County, Conejo Valley Unified School District Superintendent Jeffrey L. Baarstad said an initial version of the plan would have given one low-income area as much as $5,000 more per student than his district.
"The concern out there is that there's a problem with winners and losers," Baarstad said. "Everyone has been a loser the last five years. Even though someone like me absolutely agrees with putting money behind (low-income) kids, at the same time I want to rebuild my district, too."
As Brown found last spring, the challenge with overhauling any decades-old finance system is that losing Capitol interests will resist change. The rich-poor divide is not the only one.
Brown's proposal would eliminate most earmarks called "categoricals." For years, the state has provided schools with general-purpose money as well as earmarks that must be spent on specific programs.
Categoricals emerged over decades after lawmakers and special interests identified one problem or another and wanted to encourage school districts to correct them. The California Teachers Association, for instance, has backed incentives for districts to reduce class sizes -- and hire more teachers.
In the wake of recent budget cuts, the state temporarily relaxed most earmarks, telling districts they could still receive funds without spending on state-driven priorities.
That riled advocates for specific programs, particularly adult education. Since the state relaxed earmarks, 82 percent of districts have cut some or all adult education, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office.
Supporters say their programs help adults find jobs and learn English, and they want to restore protections they had before budget cuts.
"It's a tenuous situation when you pit adult learners against K-12," said Dawn Koepke, a lobbyist for the California Council for Adult Education.
The state has earmarks for items as small as notifying parents of kindergartners and first-graders that their children must obtain a dental examination before they start school. That requirement came from a 2006 bill by then-Assemblyman Bill Emmerson, an orthodontist. It, too, might disappear under Brown's proposal.
In workshops, the CTA has asked that Brown preserve money for class-size reduction. The more Brown maintains funding protections for any group, however, the further he strays from his original goal.
Without describing specifics, Brown's Department of Finance spokesman, H.D. Palmer, said the governor's desire is "to move decision-making responsibility and accountability to the local level."
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