Less money, more flexibility

California’s very belated budget gives less money to schools but more flexibility in how to spend the money, reports the Sacramento Bee.

Summer school. Art and music. Classes for gifted children.

Buying textbooks. Training math and English teachers. Tutoring students for the high school exit exam.

. . . In the budget deal crafted last week, the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger combined many of the pots of money known as “categoricals.” The result is that for the next five years, principals and district administrators will have more spending flexibility than they’ve had in recent history.

One third of state education funding has been restricted by the Legislature, which feared school boards would sacrifice special programs to boost teacher salaries.

Money for buying new technology couldn’t be used to buy books for a library. Money for checking kids’ teeth couldn’t be spent on counseling. Money for training principals couldn’t be used to train a teacher.

Reformers have called for combining the categoricals for 20 years now. It took a crisis to make it happen. And, due to heavy pressure by the teachers’ union, class-size reduction wasn’t included.  A principal can’t choose to save the reading intervention program by increasing second-grade and third-grade classes to 25 students.