SACRAMENTO — Lawmakers are preparing to rescue the state's worst-performing learners by showering the schools they attend with millions of dollars to attract more credentialed teachers, enhance learning materials and bolster parent involvement.
Gov. Gray Davis included the $200 million sought by lawmakers for low-performing schools in his 2001-02 budget. A six-legislator conference committee charged with drawing up a spending plan is expected to wrap up its work before the end of next week, when the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn.
Lawmakers are considering using the money to start a program, which would add to an effort that Davis and the Legislature began in 1999, to assist schools in the bottom half of the state's Academic Performance Index. The index is based on students' Stanford 9 test scores.
There are 860 schools in various stages of the Immediate Intervention/Underperforming Schools Program, with an additional 430 scheduled to be added this fall. Schools in that program receive $200 per student and are expected to improve test scores by 5% each year or face sanctions at the end of the third year.
The sanctions include the transfer of teachers and principals, state takeover or closure. The new grant program being considered by lawmakers would attempt to focus most of the money on about 600 of the lowest performing schools by bolstering their funding from $200 to $400 per student.
"We have an opportunity to make a significant investment in our lowest performing schools," said Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), a conference committee member. "I'm confident that if the plan reflects the elements we are working on that the investment will lead to real improvement for these schools."
"We certainly hope the money would be spent and focused in classrooms," said Kerry Mazzoni, Davis' education secretary.
Still in contention is how long the funding would last. As it stands, the Davis administration has proposed $200 million a year for only four years, given the state's wobbly fiscal outlook.
A proposal to allow certain schools that have failed to meet improvement goals to qualify for a fourth year of funding also has drawn criticism. That would happen only if the local school district agrees to play a larger role in turning the schools around.
Sen. Chuck Poochigian (R-Fresno), another committee member, said the state would be backtracking on accountability if it made allowances like that.
"Delaying enforcement of sanctions is something I would have a tough time accepting," Poochigian said.
Wayne Johnson, president of the California Teachers Assn., took issue with the additional funding for the underperforming schools program. His association would prefer that the money be used to fund a separate program that would span at least five years and be focused on assisting teachers rather than punishing them.
More credentialed teachers would be drawn to struggling schools, he added, by reducing class sizes and giving teachers more control over curriculum and discipline.
"It would attract experienced and veteran teachers to the lowest performing schools," he said.
Fabian Nunez, a lobbyist for the Los Angeles Unified School District, said he hopes school districts will have an increased say in how the new funding is spent. He estimated that his district could receive nearly 40% of the $200 million.