Ostensibly, the “Local Control Funding Formula” overhaul of school finance that Gov. Jerry Brown championed is about putting more money into schools and concentrating much of it on schooling poor and/or “English-learner” students.
A big component of the LCFF is what Brown calls “subsidiarity,” a religious theory about the worth of the individual that he’s reinterpreted as relying on local government and school district officials to make decisions.
Brown baldly violated that principle when, pressured by unions, he signed legislation last year to limit local school district budget reserves.
However, he continues to invoke it when it serves his purpose, as indicated by his response to a landmark court ruling that would compel the state to intervene when local school authorities fail to provide poor children with adequate educations.
In October, Alameda County Judge George Hernandez Jr. ordered state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson to step in when students are denied educations because of administrative foul-ups or security issues.
The chief example was a chaotic breakdown at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, but plaintiffs allege the shortcomings are widespread and pervasive.
It’s not the first time the state has lost such a case because long-standing California law says that students have a right to adequate educations, and chances are it will lose this one as well.
But Torlakson and Brown are not ceding defeat and are offering a new defense – that the LCFF shifts responsibility for providing adequate educations from the state to local schools.
“We will resist any effort to derail this important initiative through costly and unnecessary litigation,” Torlakson and Brown’s top education adviser, state Board of Education President Michael Kirst, said in a statement.
Brown backed up that intention this month by giving Torlakson an extra $3.4 million to employ lawyers – at $450 per hour – to fight Judge Hernandez’s order that Torlakson must intervene in failing schools.
The state already intervenes when local school districts get into financial trouble. Torlakson and his predecessors have seized control of insolvent districts – essentially putting them into receivership, bypassing local school boards.
Financial stability is important, but it’s secondary to what happens – or doesn’t happen – in the classroom.
If schools are failing students, as Judge Hernandez declared after extensive testimony, how can the state, in good conscience, remain aloof?
Was the LCFF just a trick by state politicians to escape such responsibility?
Since Brown, a former seminarian, often cites religious history, perhaps he should reread the Bible’s accounts of how another governor, Pontius Pilate, bowed to local authorities and washed his hands of responsibility for Christ’s execution.