The immensity of educational reform in California threatens to crowd out focus on foster youth.
On March 12th, the California State Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education conducted a hearing on Governor Jerry Brown’s sweeping education reform known as the “Local Control Funding Formula.”
The stakes couldn’t be higher. The state’s entire funding framework is being wrought from beneath, promising needed simplicity and more money to California’s ailing public education system. But amidst the debris that this overdue overhaul is leaving behind are expensive categorical funding streams that will inexplicably remain and other important programs that will be left to disrepair.
Of the 50 existing categorical programs listed in a recent report by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, all but eight would be subsumed by the new funding formula while two very expensive programs would be made permanent. These are: the $855 million Targeted Instructional Improvement Grant (TIIG) and Home-to-School Transportation. TIIG was designed to reduce segregation in schools and is disbursed erratically, with Los Angeles Unified School District receiving close to 60 percent of the program’s annual allocation.
During the hearing, Brian Nestande, a Republican Assemblyman from Palm Desert, was nonplussed, and more, clearly irritated by the idea of keeping what he depicted as an outdated and unfairly distributed funding stream.
“I just don’t get it,” Nestande. “I mean the whole point of this is to equalize and undo these messes that have gone on with these funding streams, but the TIIG seems to perpetuate this problem… into perpetuity I guess.”
Chris Ferguson of Gov. Brown’s Department of Finance explained that the Administration had proposed maintaining the program out of fear that districts which currently benefit from it would sue: a claim that both Nestande and Rachel Ehlers of the Legislative Analysis’s Office found dubious during the hearing.
“I think that is fairly disingenuous to be honest with you,” Nestande said to a flustered Ferguson. “I don’t think that’s the cause here. I think there is something else, and I hope this committee gets to the bottom of this before the proposal moves forward.”
While the Governor’s proposal maintains an $855 million lopsided funding stream like TIIG, it eliminates other targeted “categoricals” that serve students in need like the $15 million Foster Youth Services (FYS) Program.
During his State of the State Address in January, Gov. Brown pointed to the special needs of students in foster care to underline the need for his Local Control Funding Formula. “This formula recognizes the fact that a child in a family making $20,000 a year or speaking a language different from English or living in a foster home requires more help,” he then said.
But since that proclamation, it has become clear that foster youth will not receive any meaningful weight in the Gov.’s actual proposal and stand to lose the one program that has been dedicated to their educational needs since 1981.
Despite a letter of protest from more than 50 organizations including several County Offices of Education, a call to preserve FYS in the San Francisco Chronicle and solid of coverage of the issue in EdSource, KQED and this publication, it wasn’t clear the message was getting through to those speaking at Tuesday’s hearing. Maya Cooper, a staff attorney with the National Center for Youth Law, was one of a handful of foster youth advocates who stood alongside foster youth in the back of the 50-person long line to make public comment. In an interview afterward, Cooper was dismayed at the lack of attention students in foster care were given during the hearing.
“If they [the Assembly Members] are not articulating this within these discussions; and if they are not vocalizing that this is a group that they are even considering, then I don’t think we can assume that they are actually considering them in these budget proposals.”
With a throng of varied interests vying to defend their prized programs or looking to otherwise benefit from the sea change coming, advocates trying to defend the uniquely fragile web of services that improve the educational odds for foster children need to work harder if these vulnerable students are not to be forgotten.
Daniel Heimpel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the Publisher of the Chronicle of Social Change.