SACRAMENTO — A bill to reform K-12 school financing, championed by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica), has stalled in its progress through the state Senate after winning near-unanimous support in the Assembly.

The bill, known as AB18, would simplify school financing by reducing the number of categorical funds — funds that hold money that can only be spent on one purpose — to four large umbrella categories.

These larger categories would give local school districts the flexibility to choose where their state funding would best be spent, and would, supposedly, get rid of earmarks or unnecessary spending.

Although the bill passed the Assembly with only two “no” votes, it became clear that the state Senate would be a harder hurdle to jump, Brownley said.

Instead, she chose to convert the legislation into a two-year bill and use the extra time to try to address concerns brought during its debut in the Senate.

“I made the decision to make it what we call a two-year bill because it’s a big, aggressive bill,” Brownley said. “Trying to simplify a very complicated system takes time … We wanted to try to get the bill really right.”

So far, AB18 has taken some heat from the California Teachers’ Association and groups that advocate for adult education.

Adult education supporters feared that by lumping money specifically earmarked for programs aimed at older students in with other categories in a block called “Base Funding” could lead to school districts axing the program in order to pay for other things.

Adult education has already taken major hits under so-called “flexibility” measures, which have allowed school districts to take money from the programs, or close them altogether, to support K-12 education, said Teri Burns, a legislative advocate for the California Association of Adult Education Administrators.

“Generally, the public’s perception is that schools should serve K-12 education,” Burns said. “When funding is tight, the pressure is on where to direct those dollars. You’re pitting the cute little first grader against someone who’s a young adult, or an older adult who doesn’t have great work or English language skills, and is a less sympathetic character.”

These concerns prompted Brownley to remove adult education from the “Base Funding” category, and preserve it as its own category for the time being.

By removing it from one of the four main block funds envisioned in the bill, adult education will be safe from having its funding absorbed into other uses.

Part of the decision to hold off on the bill is to invite opinions and concerns so that the bill won’t have any unintended consequences, Brownley said.

“There’s clearly lots of concern about adult education,” she said.

Still, Brownley holds that the basic architecture of the bill is sound, and this process will help fill in some of the details that need to be addressed.

“All of the stakeholders have a fundamental agreement. The system is broken and needs to be changed,” she said. “Now we need to get all the details nailed down.”

Brownley carried a similar bill earlier in her term which got through both the Assembly and the Senate only to be vetoed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The previous version created a working group that would be used to hash out the details and special interests.

This time, Brownley intended to cut out the middle man and make a working group out of the legislative process.

She still hopes to pass the bill before the end of her term in 2012.

“I’ve been working on this since I’ve been in the legislature,” she said.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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