Small Steps May Lead to School Finance Reform

PPIC released a new report this week indicating California’s schools inequitable finance system is  inadequately funded but can significantly improve the way it funds public schools by making small investments over time. Every year the state attempts to distribute more than 50 billion dollars worth of funding.

The report outlines a strategy to reform California’s school finance system—widely considered to be inadequately funded, inequitable, and overly complex. There is unlikely to be additional money available soon to address the first of these concerns—the level of funding. But the system can be made more equitable and transparent, and doing so would prepare the state to make the most of any additional resources in the future.

Instead of spending money focused on student needs, they are forced to adhere to a flawed funding system that includes a 1973 tax base, as well as hundreds of pieces of legislation doling out money based on the political whims of decades past.

“Given California’s budget problems, school finance reform isn’t likely to happen overnight,” says Margaret Weston, PPIC research associate and author of the report. “But small investments over time can add up to a big change. This approach wouldn’t require a major investment in a single year and would ensure that no district would see a decrease in funding per pupil.”

The report offers concrete ideas addressing systemic inequities and illogical policies that too often reward inefficiency, such as  districts that are adept at helping English learners become fluent in the language lose funding, while those who fail to do so continue to get extra resources to support those students’ needs.

Additional recommendations include:

  • State legislators don’t need to wait for a legal mandate to start fixing the system. The PPIC report offers policymakers some road maps for equalizing funding over the next several years, while still addressing the diverse needs of districts.
  • Increasing funding based more on the number of low-income students in a district rather than on English learners or the number of students who post low standardized test scores
  • A funding system that recognizes the expensive transportation needs of rural districts or those where high regional wages drive up the price of teachers

You can read the full report HERE or check out the press release HERE.

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