State budget boost to help FUSD, other districts

FRESNO, Calif.

This week is a deadline for the state budget and a new compromise proposal looks to have a good chance of passing the state legislature.

Fresno's Webster Elementary School may be one of the poorest schools in the Central Valley, with 98% of its student body considered below the poverty level. But as state funding trickles back to schools, Webster could be a model for how to spend money.

"We know for a fact that more time with effective teachers matters dramatically," said FUSD superintendent Michael Hanson.

Hanson says his staff knows that because they've seen it at Webster and Carver Elementary Schools and at Yosemite Middle School. Three years ago, the consistently underperforming schools extended the school day by 30 minutes and the school year by two weeks. New funding could allow the school district to expand that model.

"How much time can we have in certain students' school days?" Hanson wondered out loud. "How long can we make a school year for certain schools and/or certain students most in need?"

Fresno Unified administrators can afford to dream again this summer. The latest budget proposal would restore funding to levels not seen since 2008. Fresno Unified would get somewhere around $13 million more in state funds.

Clovis Unified and other districts in the Valley will also get funding increases, but not nearly as much as Fresno Unified's.

Fresno's Republican assembly member, Jim Patterson, tells Action News Gov. Jerry Brown's funding formula gives the short end of the stick to high-performing districts, like Clovis. Brown chose to focus a lot of extra funding on schools with high concentrations of poverty. He backed off that goal a little in negotiations with his fellow Democrats, but Fresno Unified still emerged a winner.

"The governor's original proposal of having concentration grants for those communities serving students with large percentages of concentrated poverty, he upheld to that principle," Hanson said.

Webster Elementary School gained 100 points on state tests after one year with its expanded school day and year. With the extra funding, every Fresno school may soon discover whether the model can work everywhere.

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