Report: California’s School Funding Flexibility Opportunity

The Public Policy Institute of California recently released a report looking at the impact of the sweeping changes in public education financing taking effect in 2009. These laws are set to expire this year, and PPIC has prepared an analysis and recommendations based on both the good and bad aspect of the laws impact thus far.

This report, along with previously released statewide survey data, the PPIC is providing convincing evidence in the overhaul of the statewide education system. The PPIC also suggest the time is ripe now as the 2009 laws are to be reevaluated. Results from the April 2011 report include:

  • Most Californians are very concerned that the state’s budget deficit will mean significant cuts to K–12 education.
  • Six in ten adults and likely voters favor Governor Brown’s plan of spending cuts and temporary tax increases to close the deficit and avoid cuts to schools.
  • More than half of public school parents say they have noticed reduced numbers of support staff or fewer programs at their child’s school.

Spurred by a deep recession and large budget shortfalls, the California Legislature in 2009 enacted what was arguably the largest change to California’s school finance system in decades—relaxing spending restrictions on more than 40 categorical programs through 2012–13, extended later to 2014–15. Categorical funding, which gives school districts money in addition to the general funds they already receive from the state, had been limited to specific, narrow purposes: buying textbooks or providing summer school, for example. Under the 2009 changes, districts could begin spending these funds for any educational purpose.

Because the laws were part of legislative negotiations over the state budget, not education policy, the decisions made in 2009 were far from optimal for K–12 schools. A more systematic and less political reconsideration of categorical flexibility could result in a more equitable and transparent distribution of funds, while also reserving targeted aid for students who need supplemental services. In addition, under the 2009 provisions, districts could spend categorical funds on any educational purpose. Both state policymakers and local district officials have expressed concern about the impact of completely flexible funds on the collective bargaining process; specifically, that those funds would be used inappropriately to increase teacher salaries and benefits rather than to provide additional services or materials for students.

This report offers three recommendations to improve current flexibility provisions that the legislature could consider should it pursue categorical flexibility beyond the program’s sunset date:

  • Distribute these less-restricted categorical funds more equally.
  • Apply clear criteria for flexibility and consider alternative configurations.
  • Consider some restrictions on flex item funds.

These recommendations would create a more equitable and transparent source of revenue. This would provide local school districts with increased flexibility in meeting student needs, and would be consistent with several recent major school finance reform proposals, as well as Governor Brown’s campaign plan for K–12 education.

When the law expires, the legislature will be faced with a decision: whether to return to the previous, tightly restricted categorical fund system or transition to a permanent version of the flexibility now in use.

To read the entire report, click here for the PPIC publication. This post contains excerpts from the original report.

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.

Let us know what you think on our Facebook page.

Lessons in Reading Reform, CAHSEE Success from PPIC

Two interesting reports released by the Public Policy Institute of California we’d like to share with you. The first is on the California High School Exit Examination and how student success can be determined as early as fourth grade. The report suggests a philosophy shared by California GEAR UP, that providing resources to struggling students in early grades will be a more effective way to improve achievement than the current approach of focusing on students in the last year of high school.

The report suggests the following (read report for full recommendations):

  • Develop an “early warning” system to forecast which ele- mentary or middle school students will be at risk of failing the CAHSEE.
  • After-school reading classes and related reforms of intervention.
  • Consider targeting additional tutoring funds at elementary and middle school students at risk of failing the exam.
  • Consider additional academic support directed at the many students who marginally pass the CAHSEE.

The second report released this week addressed Lessons in Reading Reform.  The report is the first evaluation of the long-term effects of a massive reform program implemented in the San Diego Unified School District—the state’s second largest and one that is similar to the demographics of other large districts. It comes at a time of national debate over efforts to improve public school accountability. These efforts include setting content standards and student testing—but offer little guidance about how to help students improve.

The key element that seems to have driven success was a significant amount of extra student time spent on reading, with a possible additional factor being widespread professional development for district teachers. The combination was not cheap to implement nor a fix-all. But in elementary and middle schools it demonstrably worked.

Suggestions from the report include:

  • Early intervention is most effective.
  • Middle school students who took extended-length English classes made big gains.
  • A longer school year at elementary schools with the weakest reading scores led to moderate gains.
  • The reforms did not cause negative side effects.

Please take the time to review the reports and let us know what you think. You can comment on the blog or visit us on our Facebook page to leave a comment.

Discussion Series: 1 Million more graduates by 2025

Welcome to our first blog Discussion Series posts. Our food for thought is from the  Public Policy Institute of California:

California’s economy is becoming increasingly dependent on highly educated workers. But unless young adults’ college-going and college graduation rates increase substantially, the supply of graduates is not likely to meet the demand. PPIC projects that by 2025, 41 percent of jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree— but only 35 percent of California adults will have college diplomas. To put it another way, if current trends persist, the state will face a shortfall of one million college graduates. Moreover, adults with a high school diploma or less will out number the jobs available to people with that level of education.  —-Hans Johnson

The Public Policy Institute of California has published interesting data stating the need for 1 million more college graduates than projected in 2025. They outline three areas to address this problem:

1) Increase enrollment rates

2) Increase transfer rates

3) Increase completion rates

While these seem obvious, addressing these solutions aren’t exactly easy.

We will all need to work together to align courswork and fiscal policies and start thinking strategically with respect to policy initiatives and education funding.

How do you think GEAR UP schools can start now in working together to address this graduate shortage????