Twin Rivers Unified School District will be the Sacramento metropolitan area's big winner if California legislators agree to dramatically change the way schools are funded.
Its financial windfall, however, hinges on whether state lawmakers adopt a historic proposal from Gov. Jerry Brown to send more money to school districts that serve low-income communities.
If passed, it would be the most substantial change in public school funding since Proposition 13 passed in 1978, said Michael Kirst, the State Board of Education president.
Under the proposed formula, Twin Rivers would get $3,452 more per student by 2017 than the district will receive next school year, according to state data.
Sacramento City Unified, Woodland Joint Unified, Washington Unified in West Sacramento and Natomas Unified, which also have a large number of low-income students, also would receive substantially more state aid.
By comparison, San Juan Unified, Davis Unified, El Dorado Union High School District in Placerville, Rocklin Unified, Folsom Cordova Unified and Roseville Joint Union High School District wouldn't fare as well.
The key change proposed by the governor would be to eliminate most of the state's "categorical funds" dismantling the way California schools have been funded for decades. Categorical funds earmark money for specific programs such as gifted and talented classes, adult education, technology, staff development and class-size reduction.
Under a proposed "weighted pupil funding formula," each school board could decide how to best spend a district's allotment of state money.
"It basically unties our hands," said Ron Ball, associate superintendent for business for Twin Rivers Unified. "Give us the money to do these things and don't tell us how to accomplish it."
Easing restrictions on funds is especially important in times of severe budget cutting, said Chet Madison, school board president for Elk Grove Unified.
"It's always helpful when you get out from under the restrictions the Legislature has put on us," Madison said. "It would allow us to put the money where it is needed most in the classroom."
While then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made many categorical programs optional three years ago, the change was temporary and is set to expire in 2014.
Brown is proposing to greatly and permanently expand the number of categorical programs that are optional for districts to fund.
Programs mandated by federal or state law such as special education, school meals or after-school programs will not be optional.
The Brown administration predicts that, by 2017, school districts in the Sacramento region will average about $2,300 more per student, mostly due to the state's predicted economic growth.
If enacted, the governor's proposal would give each school district in the state $4,920 per student as a base. Districts then would receive 37 percent more for students who are low-income or English learners. School districts could earn additional money if more than 50 percent of their students are both low-income and English language learners.
"Scholarly research and practical experience indicate that low-income students and English learners come to school with unique challenges and often require supplemental instruction and other supports in order to be successful in school," according to a state Department of Finance summary of the proposal.
The department's per-district estimates are based on an assumption that voters will pass a temporary tax increase that Brown is pushing for the November ballot.
The state is hoping an incentive program will keep school districts on track. The program would offer districts a 2.5 percent bonus if they meet accountability criteria that are still being determined.
Under the state's current funding formula, districts will receive about $7,800 per student next school year, said Nick Schweizer, program budget manager for the Department of Finance.
That figure, which includes categorical funding not covered by Brown's proposal, wouldn't change much even if Brown's plan is adopted because he wants to phase in changes slowly over six years.
By the 2018-19 school year, each district's funding would be based on its allotment from the previous year, with adjustments tied to school spending guarantees under Proposition 98.
"The state's current system of financing K-12 schools is too complex, too costly, too dated, and doesn't reflect the makeup of today's school-age population," said H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the Department of Finance. "That's why the governor is proposing to phase in a new formula that not only gives school districts greater flexibility to set local priorities, but will also be coupled with accountability measures that will both measure and reward school performance."
But with that flexibility comes fear.
The proposal is making advocates of vocational education culinary arts, construction, auto mechanics, animal science, nursing assistant, ROTC and computer graphics, for example anxious because their funding is not guaranteed, said Timothy Taylor, who oversees Regional Occupation Programs for the Sacramento County Office of Education.
Taylor isn't too concerned himself, however. He said that although some local districts have chipped away at career academies and regional occupation and agriculture programs, there has been no sweep of the programs in the three years since Schwarzenegger made the programs' funding temporarily optional.
"I contend that if you have a quality program, your district is going to keep it," Taylor said. "If it does well and helps prepare kids for a post-secondary education, they will keep it. If it is substandard, it will struggle."
The Brown administration wants to begin implementing the new funding formula next school year.
Legislators have until June 15 to approve a state budget, but Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jonathan Raymond says lawmakers should take their time.
"Spend the time to do it right maybe over the next year and when we implement it, we do it right away," he said.
The superintendent generally agrees with the proposal, calling it a "sweeping make-over," but would like legislators to consider tweaking it to include increased funding for special education students, among other things.
There are "a lot of things that still need to be worked out," he said.