There's a paradox in many of the reactions to Governor Jerry
Brown's proposal to give California schools more flexibility on how
they spend their state tax dollars. There's general support
around the Capitol for breaking down the funding walls surrounding
several dozen programs. But everyone seems to have a favorite
program they want to protect.
"So It's Pretty Straight-Forward,
At a Career Technical Education class in the southern
Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove, Sal Lascola talks his high school
students through a mechanical engineering class called
"computer-aided design drafting," or CADD. It's one of the
state programs with a guaranteed funding stream that could soon go
"So it's pretty straight-forward, right?" he asks.
It seems that way to Lascola's 34 students, who each have two
computer screens in front of them. They're measuring and
drawing very precise geographic lines and angles to create shapes
with rectangles, cylinders and cones.
A computer-aided design drafting (CADD) Mechanical
Engineering class, part of Elk Grove Unified's Career Technical
Education program at Monterey Trail High School. (Photo by
"Right now they're just learning the basics of how to do
design, technical drawing, so that they can create objects that
they're going to create in their engineering classes or anytime in
the future," Lascola says. Their potential future fields of
work could include mechanical engineering, manufacturing, civil
engineering and architecture.
" programs? Yes,
Career Tech is one of 60 state-funded programs known as
"categoricals." Others include art, music, Advanced Placement
classes, even summer school. Each comes with its own pot of
money and its own rules for how that money must be spent.
Governor Brown wants to eliminate about three-quarters of them -
the ones that don't have strings attached, like federal funds or
voter approval. Instead, Brown wants to leave it to each
school district to decide how to spend that money. He called
it "the principle of Subsidiarity" in his January State of the
"Subsidiarity is offended when distant authorities prescribe
in minute detail what is taught, how it is taught and how it is to
be measured," the governor said then. "I'd prefer to trust
our teachers who are in the classroom each day, doing the real work
- lighting fires in young minds."
Ask around the Capitol and you'll generally find support for
this part of the governor's education funding proposal. Yet
more often than not, that support comes with an asterisk.
For example, "I think the overall thrust is a positive one, in
terms of local control and giving flexibility to school districts,"
says Democratic Assemblyman Kevin Mullin. "But in some fairly
rare instances, I believe the administration of those programs
works best with direct state oversight."
Mullin has offered a bill in the aftermath of the Newtown, CT
elementary school shooting that would exempt a school safety
program. He originally wanted to exempt a teacher training
program too, but dropped that idea.
"Maximum Flexibility will
The governor does have some support without the
asterisk. "Of course, there's some in there I like and would
like to protect," says Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff.
"But I'm willing to take the things I like and throw it in the
whole and let the school districts make that decision, because I
think the maximum flexibility will help them use the money that
they have a lot more wisely."
Democratic Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg also generally
supports eliminating categoricals, with the exception of money for
school buses. He also wants to find a way to ensure Career
Tech - one of his top priorities - is expanded. One way or
another, he wants to "make it in the district's best interest to
say, God darn - we gotta do more of this. Right?
Without the need for categoricals."
Which should be good news for Sal Lascola, the Career Tech
teacher in Elk Grove. He knows the governor has a tough job
dealing with school funding, but insists his program is worth
keeping. "I'm not asking for more money," he says.
"Just don't cut it. Keep it coming, if we can, 'cause we do
Sal Lascola and two of his students, Abdul Haq and
Jonathan Leong, at Elk Grove Unified's Monterey Trail High
School. (Photo by Ben Adler)
Lascola's school district says it fully intends to keep his
program funded - no matter how the governor's proposal ends
up. And that's what Brown wants: for the district to make
those decisions, not the state.