A first-grade student helps a classmate work through a math assignment. (Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education)

Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to entice thousands of new teachers into the classroom, concentrate school improvement in the most impoverished neighborhoods and use competitive grants to challenge districts to form partnerships and develop best practices to raise achievement. He outlined his ideas for  addressing the teacher shortage and stepping up school improvement in an 85-page document his administration released late last month. The “omnibus education trailer bill” offers the first look at how he plans to spend more than $1.5 billion in his 2020-21 K-12 budget.

Newsom is proposing the biggest investment in staff development since the $1.25 billion that former Gov. Jerry Brown provided districts for training and materials in 2013-14 to implement the Common Core standards. It is the most proposed for new programs since the $500 million Brown put toward the short-lived Career Pathways Trust, a program in which community colleges, districts, county offices of education and universities worked with businesses to establish consortiums whose mission was to plan for future needs of a regional workforce.

Budget hearings in the Legislature may elicit more details. Administering agencies will write the rules and criteria for distributing the funding after the programs are approved. Newsom will get pushback from some legislators and education groups who will argue the state should be putting less money into new programs, like the $300 million proposed for community schools — which address the physical and mental health of students through partnerships with community services — and more into the main source of districts’ general spending, the Local Control Funding Formula. It’s getting the minimum 2.3 percent cost-of-living increase — not enough, by the Legislative Analyst’s Office’s calculations, to cover rising pension, employee health care and special education expenses.

Here are some themes that emerge from the trailer bill:

  • Although the bulk of the programs would be implemented through one-time funding, many of the grants in the program would be for four years, long enough to begin to judge their success and weather a potential recession.
  • Some of the programs for recruiting and training new teachers and addressing teacher shortages date back to the administration of Gov. Gray Davis and were picked up by Brown and now by Newsom on a much larger scale. State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond has championed the programs, particularly teacher residencies.
  • But Newsom is charting a new approach to fixing low-performing schools. Instead of doling out dollars uniformly per student through county offices of education, as some had speculated would be his approach, competitive grants would determine in most cases which districts and charter schools get teacher training grants and money to fix low-performing schools. In some cases, grants proposing consortiums and partnerships with counties, universities and nonprofits may get priority.
  • This process would not answer the question of how the state will provide assistance for struggling, poorly managed districts that don’t apply or win funding and how this new system would mesh with the limited system we have now. Currently, county offices receive short-term funding to work with hundreds of districts with low-performing student groups. But those districts could underperform for years before state law requires further help, and no additional funding would be earmarked for this work.
  • Newsom is focusing on the most impoverished, struggling schools and districts — those where more than 90 percent of students qualify for the free lunch program. Several programs, such as $300 million for community schools, would target them exclusively.
  • Newsom would grant more authority to the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, the state agency led by Tom Armelino, the former longtime Shasta County superintendent, with a current staff of only 15. It would administer the $300 million Opportunity Grants, the main funding for fixing low-performing schools and districts — creating uncertainty about the role of county offices of education. Brown and the Legislature established the collaborative in 2013 in part because the governor wasn’t confident that the California Department of Education’s bureaucracy could pivot to guide school improvement under the state’s new guiding principle of local control. Newsom is counting on the collaborative to have the chops to handle a heap of new responsibilities.

What follows are summaries of a dozen programs outlined in the main trailer bill and a few smaller ones.

Story originally published by EdSource.

John Fensterwald