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Budget has good news for some

It would boost spending on schools, health and services for the needy.

January 11, 2013|Anthony York, Michael J. Mishak, Patrick McGreevy and Paige St. John

Public schools

California's K-12 schools are among the biggest winners in the governor's budget, with a proposed funding increase of $2.7 billion.

The money would come with plans to shift some of it away from wealthy suburban districts so it can be spent on schools that serve poor students and non-English speakers. But those receiving less money than in the past would have more flexibility in spending it, because Gov. Jerry Brown's plan would eliminate dozens of program requirements set by Sacramento.

Education advocates who support the governor's overall goals worry about ensuring that school districts spend the funds on the students it is intended to benefit. Brown says he is committed to a more equitable system of education finance. "It is controversial, but it's fair," he said. "It's right and it's just."

The governor is also proposing $400 million for energy-efficiency upgrades in public schools, using money generated by a new corporate tax formula approved by voters last fall as Proposition 39.

Now that state finances appear to be stabilizing, Brown says he will push to pay down billions of dollars in state debt -- much of it owed to schools. His budget calls for payment of $1.8 billion of the $7.4 billion the state owes the schools.

Higher education

The University of California and California State University systems would receive a total of $534 million more than in this fiscal year under the governor's plan, giving them more than $5.6 billion combined from the state's general fund. Brown said the increase would be more than adequate to keep the universities from hiking tuition again any time soon.

Community colleges would also get a boost -- roughly $700 million over this fiscal year, for a total of about $5.5 billion.

At the same time, the governor demanded that higher education leaders do more to control costs. He wants to tie their funding to their ability to improve graduation rates and to graduate students on time.

"Super seniors" -- students who earn more than 150% of the units needed to graduate -- would pay higher fees under Brown's plan. A similar proposal considered by Cal State was tabled last November at the governor's request.

Brown would link some community college funding to success in placing transfer students in four-year colleges. In addition, community colleges would take over responsibility for adult education, which historically has been run through the K-12 system.

The governor also earmarked money for community colleges and universities to offer more online courses.

Still, asked whether he could promise that college fees won't increase, Brown replied: "Guarantees are not part of this world we live in."

Healthcare

California would significantly expand public health insurance under Brown's proposed budget as part of a plan to implement President Obama's healthcare overhaul.

The federal Affordable Care Act largely takes effect in January 2014, when most Americans will be required to buy health insurance or pay a penalty.

Brown earmarked $350 million to help enroll more Californians in Medi-Cal, the state's health insurance program for the poor. The cost would be split between the state and federal governments.

The governor's plan also calls for a separate, larger expansion of Medi-Cal to cover a group not currently eligible for the program: single adults without children, earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level -- or $15,415 a year. Washington would subsidize costs for the first three years.

Brown called the $350 million a "placeholder" figure. State officials await additional guidance from Washington on the scope of benefits required for newly eligible Californians and the funding formula that will determine how much federal money the state receives.

State officials declined to provide caseload estimates, but healthcare analysts have said the expansion could place hundreds of thousands of new enrollees into Medi-Cal.

Social services

After years of steep spending cuts cost hundreds of thousands of Californians access to welfare and other services for the poor, Brown this year is proposing a modest increase for such programs.

Funds would rise 4.9% for one of the biggest programs for those in need, In-Home Supportive Services, which provides housekeeping and other care for the elderly and disabled. Nearly $6.2 billion would be spent on the program in the next fiscal year, most of it coming from federal funds, to serve an estimated 419,000 Californians.

CalWorks, the state's main welfare program, would be funded for all eligible families who currently receive cash assistance and child care. The governor projects that welfare rolls will grow slightly, to about 572,000 families.

Advocates for the poor would like to see more. "People are really desperate.... It's disappointing," said Jessica Barthelow, a legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

According to the center, California has cut more than $15 billion from its social "safety net" since 2008.

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