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Friday, Feb 22 2013 11:00 PM

Valley can really use new school funds

By The Bakersfield Californian

A recent federal report casts a troubling picture of educational equality in America: White children in affluent families are receiving a much better public school education than children in high-poverty neighborhoods.

The report, produced by the congressionally created Equity and Excellence Commission, portrays a stark reality. It states that affluent students are receiving "a truly world-class education," while impoverished students "are getting an education that more closely approximates school in developing nations."

But how's this for timing? In the same week, Gov. Jerry Brown's Department of Finance unveiled a plan that would send additional funding -- in some cases substantial funding -- to school districts with high volumes of economically disadvantaged students.

Central Valley and Kern County districts, many with poorer students, should benefit from the increased levels of per-student funding. Most of Kern's school districts will see increases. A handful -- mostly those in oil-rich areas whose property tax revenue supports high per-student funding levels -- will not.

The plan, which still faces scrutiny by the state Legislature, would restore funding reductions made over the past five years as California and the nation staggered through the recession. The growing economic recovery, coupled with an anticipated increase in state tax revenue resulting from November's voter passage of Proposition 30, should encourage the Democratic-controlled Legislature to approve it.

Statewide, the per-student funding levels are projected to grow by $2,700 over a five-year period. But in much of the southern valley the increase will be significantly more -- and in some cases will almost double. The Bakersfield City School District would see a per-student increase from $7,203 to $11,579; Delano Union, $6,510 to $11,792; Lamont, $6,773 to $11,792; and the Kern High School District, $7,991 to $10,664.

The past five years have been a rough ride and education has been hit hard. Prop. 30 -- which ironically was soundly defeated throughout the Central Valley, and whose schools now stand to see an early benefit -- was a contentious and divisive battle, in part because many voters simply did not believe the new tax revenue would be used to fund education.

Brown's plan refutes that. Assuming it passes, the onus now shifts to school districts. This infusion must go where it is intended: to the classroom, and as directly as possible. Voters, the governor's office and, in all likelihood, the Legislature will have done their share of the lifting. Now comes the tricky part: responsible implementation.

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