For the first time since its passage eight years ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to change the formula that determines more than 70 percent of annual spending by school districts in California. But his plan to direct more money only to districts with the greatest concentration of low-income children has so far proved a tough sell in the legislature.
The Local Control funding formula already targets additional funding for school districts based on the enrollment of four groups of students identified as needing additional services. They are low income students, host families and homeless people and English learners. Arguing that “equal treatment for children in unequal circumstances is not justice,” former Gov. Jerry Brown persuaded the legislature to pass the landmark fundraising bill in 2013.
Newsom wants to go further by dramatically increasing funding under the “concentration” district formula, where eligible students account for at least 55% of enrollments. Newsom is proposing to add $ 1.1 billion per year to the formula to allow these districts to hire more staff. Over 2 million low-income children and English learners are enrolled in the concentration districts.
Overall, California has one of the highest adult-to-student ratios in schools compared to other states. In keeping with the formula’s “local control” principle, Newsom would let school districts decide whether to hire more math teachers, counselors, or classroom helpers.
Newsom would also apply additional concentration funding to extend the school day to nine hours, with additional time for after-school programs like art and practical science, and would also require an additional 30 days for summer school in all districts. of concentration. It would inject the money gradually over five years, in $ 1 billion increments, and then add $ 5 billion per year to the funding formula starting in 2025-26. This would essentially double the funding to focus districts at this stage.
The increased funding for the focus is a key part of Newsom’s California For All Kids plan that “aggressively invests in fairness,” recognizing that the pandemic has caused disproportionate harm to the state’s most vulnerable children. Very poor districts and schools would also be a priority for many one-time programs in the $ 20 billion spending plan. They would include community schools that partner for health and social services as well as teacher recruitment and preparation programs.
Organizations for low income children have always called for more funding for very poor schools and districts and agree with Newsom that it is imperative now.
“It is essential that the state redouble its efforts to improve opportunities in districts where poverty is most concentrated to help close the equity gaps in and out of school as the pandemic does ‘only exacerbated, “said John Affeldt, attorney general for the San Francisco-based public interest law firm, Public Advocates. “Tying the increase in the Concentration Grant to staff increases is really smart. We and our community partners have been calling for reductions in staff-to-student ratios for over a decade. “
But Senate and Assembly budget committees disagreed with this approach in separate budgets they adopted last week.
Relying on the three-member education subcommittee headed by Sen. John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, the Senate proposes to provide the $ 1.1 billion to hire more staff in all districts, not only the concentration districts. The money would be distributed based on each district’s percentage of the four “high need” student groups.
The Senate Budget Committee would take the same approach to providing new funding for summer school and an extended day. It would fund programs for districts within three years, provided they deliver the programs to at least 50 percent of their high need students.
The Assembly’s budget committee adopted Senate language, ensuring changes to the funding formula will be a central issue in negotiations with the governor which could begin this week.
The position of the Senate and the Assembly is that additional funding should be allocated to reach all students with high needs, including those who are not in the concentration districts. There are 750,000 low-income and English learners of these students – about 1 in 8 in the state. For the summer school and the expanded learning proposal, budget committees added $ 1.5 billion in federal funds to state funding to accelerate implementation in three years.
“The Senate proposal gets more money sooner for all districts serving low-income students, youth in foster care or English learners – not just those in districts with the highest concentrations of these. students, “Laird said in a statement.
Several organizations representing school districts, including the California Association of School Business Officials, have also advocated for this position.
“We support the provision of additional programs and services to California students, especially those with the highest needs. However, we do not support the use of a concentration scholarship as a prerequisite as it imposes an artificial threshold that does not match the actual needs of the students, ”said Steve Ward, legislative analyst in charge of government relations for Clovis Unified, 41,000 students. He is also a spokesperson for the California School Funding Coalition, which is pushing to increase core funding under the formula for all districts.
During a budget hearing earlier this month, Senator David Min, D-Irvine, interviewed K-12 officials from the California Department of Finance, who presented the administration’s budget.
“Do you look at the big picture when you talk about the needs of our schools? ” He asked. Min said he represents districts where 45% and 49% of students are eligible for additional funding for the district but would not get any additional funding under Newsom’s proposal. “These districts are also struggling with resources,” he said. “I want to make sure that we allocate funds fairly here.”
The Funding Formula established a consistent and equitable system of district funding – an improvement over what came before it. But the rules are complex.
Under the formula, each district gets the same base funding per student. In addition to this, a district receives an “additional grant” equal to 20% of the base grant for each student with high needs. Under the legislature’s plan, that would increase to 23 percent.
Concentration funding is generous – and more so as part of Newsom’s plan – but it only kicks in when at least 55% of students are identified as having high need. Districts currently receive an additional 50% of the base grant for each student above the threshold. It would increase to 65% as part of Newsom’s plan.
In an average school district in California, 62 percent of students are eligible for additional funding. An EdSource analysis of the two funding alternatives found that districts with less than 69% of high need students would get more money under the Senate-Assembly proposal, and districts with more than 69% would get more. as part of Newsom’s plan.
Stanford University Professor Emeritus Michael Kirst, whose 2007 weighted student funding article became the basis for the Local Control Funding Formula, said the size of the additional and concentration grants n was not based on research. It is the result of negotiations with the Legislative Assembly in 2013.
The Brown administration tried a number of iterations, including using 35 percent of the base grant for supplemental and concentration grants. Making the numbers work meant satisfying urban neighborhoods, like Los Angeles Unified, which wanted more funding than under the existing system, and neighborhoods with few low-income families, which at least wanted to be kept safe. The final figures, including the 55% threshold for funding the concentration, were the political compromise it took to get through.
Kirst said he was in favor of neither Newsom’s proposal nor the joint Senate-Assembly proposal. You could advocate for additional fundraising or concentration, he said.
Brown made it clear that as long as he was governor, the funding formula would stay intact, to give him time to work. Either way, that’s about to change this year.