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California directs education money to neediest
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SACRAMENTO (AP) — California education officials adopted rules Thursday aimed at directing additional dollars to the state's neediest students and empowering local communities to use them as they see fit.

The State Board of Education unanimously approved the regulations, which were required under a school finance reform bill championed by Gov. Jerry Brown and passed by the Legislature last year, after hearing from more than 320 superintendents, school board members, parents, students and other supporters of the potentially historic redistribution model.

Speakers were divided, however, over whether the proposal struck the right balance between giving educators in the geographically and economically diverse state the flexibility they craved and ensuring that billions of dollars will be targeted to students who are low-income, learning to speak English or living in foster care.

The rules require districts to devote the extra money they receive for their high-needs students to improving and expanding services specifically for those students. But they also give local officials latitude to decide whether to increase teacher salaries, invest in training or technology, or promote other strategies that would help all students.

Voicing the concerns of those who worry California will squander the opportunity to close the achievement gap that separates black and Hispanic students from white and Asian classmates, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a San Diego Democrat, told the appointed school board that without greater restrictions, "We run the risk of once again doing what we have always done: a little bit for everybody and a whole lot of nothing for anybody."

The governor himself dropped by the marathon meeting to endorse the regulations, saying the goals of equity and flexibility were not exclusive. Brown reminded the audience that while equal opportunity for students is the revised formula's overarching purpose, "the central principle" supporting it is "focusing authority where it can be most effectively exercised."

"Now that's not to say that it's not important that we have guidelines and some outcomes that all the teachers can strive for. And these regulations certainly go a long way toward achieving that," he said. "But it isn't a matter of putting this on automatic pilot with minute prescriptive commands from headquarters. We're headquarters."

School districts must submit to their county education offices by July 1 three-year plans on the use of targeted funds and explain why those decisions will reduce school suspensions and absences, increase school involvement and boost student achievement. The plans, subject to state approval, must be prepared with community input and include annual goals.

With the school board facing a Jan. 31 deadline, the rules were adopted on an emergency basis. Board member Sue Burr said if the public's concerns about funds being misused are realized, the regulations would be revised before they become permanent.