Money Matters: Prioritizing Equity and Opportunity for Students in the California Budget Proposal

At The Education Trust—West (Ed Trust—West), we’re dedicated to a more equitable California for the students who have been systematically shut out from opportunity. We understand that to make our educational systems more equitable for Black, Latinx, and Native American students living in poverty – money matters. 

That’s why, every year, we await the governor’s budget proposal to see how California’s students will fare. For years, schools serving students of color have been starved of the resources they need, which has only exacerbated opportunity gaps. Now, after two years of budget surpluses and historic investments in educational equity, the state is projecting a $22 billion deficit. In a deficit year, it is even more critical that education budgets are protected, and funds are directed to the students who need it most. Below, the Ed Trust—West team has reviewed and evaluated the 2023-2024 governor’s proposed budget to ensure that California’s most underserved students are given the resources they need to succeed.  

Early Learning and Care  

The early learning and care system, especially those providing childcare, was decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic and was among the hardest hit. The system was burdened by increased costs for delivering care with additional health and safety restrictions. Yet, there seemed to be renewed hope when policymakers recognized the necessary services the early learning and care community provided and their value-add for a stable economy. So far, Governor Newsom has consistently maintained that early childhood education is a top priority in California, before and throughout the pandemic.   

Despite the current fiscal outlook, California’s 2023-2024 budget proposal seems to communicate a continued commitment to young learners by maintaining promises for multi-year investments from prior budget years, such as: 

  • Transitional Kindergarten (TK) expansion and improving teacher-to-student ratios in TK classrooms. 
  • Second year investments for California State Preschool Programs (CSPP) to serve students with disabilities, dual language learners, child mental health, and three-year-olds. 
  • Continued negotiations with the Child Care Providers Union to establish a single-rate reimbursement structure.

Another important addition to the budget this year is the 8.13% cost of living adjustment increase for all early learning and childcare programs. However, some promises are being delayed until 2024-2025, such as investments toward the construction of new facilities and retrofitting existing facilities for young learners. Even more concerning is the proposed delay of 20,000 childcare slots. The rationale for the delay is that slots from the prior year’s allocations remain unfilled. However, the untold story is that funding for these slots slated for October 2022 has yet to be released, thereby creating logistical burdens for program operators to fill the slots, hire additional staff, and postpone access for low-income families and families of color.  

The absence of hold-harmless policies for providers and family fee waivers is a glaring omission from the proposed budget. Both policies have been lifelines for a workforce of providers who are predominantly women, and more specifically, women of color, as well as low-income families who continue to face financial hardships under current economic demands.   



At Ed Trust—West, we were heartened to see that the governor’s proposed budget included minimal cuts to K-12 investments. Most notably, the proposal included: 

  • A significant 8.13 percent cost-of-living increase to the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). 
  • $250 million in additional funding for more robust early literacy supports, targeting high-poverty schools. 
  • No cuts to 2022-2023 investments in the teacher workforce, community schools, before and after school programs, and dual enrollment. 

Aside from targeted LCFF funding, there is no investment specific to supporting English learners or implementing the English Learner Roadmap. However, we will be monitoring budget and legislative proposals that support students who are learning English. 

The proposal gaining the most attention in the governor’s budget is the equity multiplier and LCFF accountability updates. 

The equity multiplier proposal is the governor’s answer to addressing the need for funding specifically for Black students raised by Assembly Bill 2774. This bill would have added the “lowest performing” student group that doesn’t already receive state or federal funding – Black students – to the LCFF formula. While the bill passed in the Legislature, the governor asked the author, Assemblymember Akilah Weber, to pull it, agreeing to address Black student needs in some other way. 

With the equity multiplier, the governor proposes to distribute $300 million to schools with a high concentration of poverty – high schools with 85 percent of students eligible for free meals and elementary and middle schools with 90 percent of students eligible for free meals. Unlike other LCFF funds, this money would have to be spent directly on the schools that qualify for it. 

While we appreciate the focus on schools with high concentrations of poverty, this proposal does not send adequate resources to Black students. As the budget process develops, we hope the governor and the legislature consider alternative ways to target Black students for additional funding. 

This proposal also includes additional provisions to the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) and the state’s System of Support that helps schools and districts to improve. Most notable among these changes is the requirement to include in the LCAP focus goals, actions, and expenditures for schools and student groups needing more LEA support. These and the other proposed accountability changes are a strong step forward in ensuring the LCAP and System of Support better promote equity. However, much more can be done to center Black students in these solutions. For more on what we think the budget could do to support Black students, check out our equity alert on the equity multiplier. 


Higher Education 

Higher education was largely protected from cuts, and Governor Newsom deserves credit for delivering on his promises to provide predictable operating budget increases for the public higher education systems. The budget proposal includes a five percent increase for the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) and an 8.13 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for the California Community Colleges (CCC), consistent with the multi-year compacts (UC and CSU) and the Multi-year Roadmap (CCC) agreed to last year. Base increases will help colleges and universities navigate post-pandemic challenges, but we continue to emphasize the importance of accountability, oversight, and setting race-conscious goals to ensure campuses make strides toward equity for their students.  

Colleges and universities continue to recover from the devastating impacts of the pandemic, and consequently, enrollment is an ongoing challenge for all three segments, with CCCs being hit the hardest (18 percent enrollment decline). The governor’s budget proposes a one-time increase of $200 million to support focused strategies to increase student retention rates and enrollment. While increased funding is a good start, the state must provide guidance and accountability metrics to ensure funds are directed toward the students and colleges who need it most. We recommend the state prioritize new funds for the following racial equity strategies:  

  • Implementation of equitable placement and completion reforms (AB 705 and AB 1705);  
  • Establishing or expanding dual enrollment partnerships; and  
  • Providing additional support to pregnant and parenting students (e.g., on-campus childcare, improved financial aid packages, etc.). 

The governor’s budget also includes a request that community college districts establish dual enrollment agreements with all applicable local educational agencies in their service area. Advocates are encouraged to see statewide momentum towards expanding dual enrollment access, but note that capacity, support, and resources for school and community college districts will be crucial to successful implementation. Our Jumpstart report underscores racial equity gaps – specifically among Black, Latinx, and Native American students – in dual enrollment access. Strategies to increase dual enrollment access must center on the needs of these students and families.   

Lastly, regarding financial aid, the governor’s budget does not propose any new investments for Cal Grant reform, which was approved in the 2022 Budget Act and is contingent on available revenues in 2024. Financial aid for college students has not kept pace with the cost of attendance—and with inflation at sky-high levels, the consequences once again hit students earning lower incomes hardest. Without a plan to fully fund Cal Grant Reform in phases, it will only amount to a promise—but not yet progress—for students with dreams of college degrees.   

In the coming weeks, we’re looking forward to working with the Legislature and advocates to strengthen this budget proposal so that it truly puts students first. Doing any less would only perpetuate the inequities in our education systems that students of color have experienced for far too long. 


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Karla Fernandez

Communications Manager

Karla Fernandez (she/her/hers) joins Ed Trust–West as a Communications Manager with over 11 years of experience advancing social impact initiatives.

Karla started her career as a teacher at Chicago Public Schools and UIC College Prep. After teaching, Karla joined United Friends of the Children to support LA County’s youth in foster care as a college counselor. Through Leadership for Educational Equity, Karla also served as a Policy Advisor Fellow for the office of a Los Angeles Unified School Board Member. She solidified her interests in policy analysis and quantitative research during her time with the Price Center for Social Innovation, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, and the USC Presidential Working Group on Sustainability. Before joining The Education Trust–West, Karla was the Associate Director for the Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) Collaborative, a network of nonprofits advocating for communities in SELA.

Karla holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, a Master of Public Policy from the USC Price School of Public Policy, and a Graduate Certificate in Policy Advocacy from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Karla is based out of southern California and is passionate about using data analysis, communications, and digital strategies for policy advocacy and social justice efforts.