LAO reports college and career budget proposals need more detail

The Legislative Analyst’s Office on Feb. 23 released an assessment of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed $2 billion in funding across three programs to increase college and career readiness among high school students.

The Governor’s proposals include $1.5 billion to create a new competitive Golden State Pathways grant program to support high-priority local educational agencies in the establishment of programs in education (including early education), computer science, health care, or STEM pathways that also focus on climate resilience. LEAs are considered high priority if a majority of their student population consists of English learners or low‑income students, or if they have a higher-than-the-state-average rate of high school dropouts, suspensions or expulsions, child homelessness, foster youth or justice‑involved youth.

An additional $20 million is proposed for another round of California STEM Pathways Grants, with education now an eligible field that students can study in the pathways program, and a proposed $500 million split among three different grant types to increase dual enrollment.

A key problem with these proposals is the lack of ongoing funding, according to the LAO.

“The administration indicates the one‑time funding in these proposals is intended to be used as start‑up costs to create or expand pathways and dual enrollment programs. However, the bulk of the costs associated with building and sustaining these programs — such as hiring staff, developing partnerships with industry, and purchasing instructional materials and equipment — are ongoing,” the report states. “Moreover, in the case of the $500,000 dual enrollment grants for academic support and advising, the funding appears to be covering an ongoing cost that, if not continued, would have no long‑term benefits.”

Additionally, though the LAO notes that dual enrollment can be an effective model for improving college preparation, the report finds that the state already supports an extensive amount of dual enrollment through several program models. In proposing this new funding, the administration doesn’t specify what barriers LEAs currently face in implementing dual enrollment programs and how the new funding would remove such barriers.

For instance, most of the proposed funding for dual enrollment is intended to increase the level of student support services like tutoring, but the proposal doesn’t specify how current funding to support students is inadequate in achieving this goal. In fact, the LAO states, “given that community colleges currently are receiving funding from the state far in excess of their enrollment levels, we question whether students — including dually enrolled students — have inadequate access to tutors, counselors, and other support staff.”

Other issues and recommendations

Analysts note that the Governor’s Golden State Pathways proposal has several elements that are similar to the existing Career Technical Education Incentive Grant (CTEIG) administered by the California Department of Education and the K‑12 Strong Workforce Program (SWP) administered by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. The CTEIG program covers a broad range of goals beyond workforce training — such as boosting student engagement and career exploration opportunities — while the K‑12 SWP is primarily intended to address regional workforce needs.

The Golden State Pathways proposal, similarly, is intended to be aligned with regional workforce needs and include partnerships with industry and institutions of higher education, but the program has a significant number of additional program requirements, such as having pathways be aligned with UC/CSU course requirements and providing students with integrated support services.

“There could be benefits to encouraging LEAs to implement programs of this type, as they can provide students with greater options after high school,” the report states. “However, enacting this proposal would leave LEAs often operating programs with three different sources of funding and three different program rules. Such a fragmented approach can make implementing well aligned and coordinated programs administratively and fiscally challenging for LEAs.”

There are also few details available about key aspects of the proposal. While it sets clear expectations for the types of pathways programs grant recipients must develop and requires grantees to submit a robust set of outcome data that will help inform the required evaluation of the program, the proposal lacks critical details, including the amount of funding grantees would receive and the allowable uses of the funds.

As the Legislature evaluates the dual enrollment and Golden State Pathways proposals, the LAO recommends lawmakers request more information from the administration prior to the May Revision that answer the following questions:

  • How does the administration expect LEAs to coordinate funding from Golden State Pathways and other CTE programs into a coherent approach for serving students?
  • What considerations is the administration taking to decide how to set grant amounts for the Golden State Pathways program?
  • What does the administration see as the key barriers to dual enrollment? Why does the administration believe additional funding is necessary given the fiscal incentives that already exist?
  • Why is the administration proposing one‑time funding for programs that will need ongoing support?
  • How will the administration ensure that funding is being distributed in an equitable manner that targets the students that could benefit most from high‑quality high school programs?

Read the full report here.