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State School Chief Says Unequal Funding Could Lead To Lawsuit


Aired 6/8/11

State School Chief Says Unequal Funding Could Lead To Lawsuit

— If California doesn’t act soon to fix inequities in public education funding, it could face a civil rights lawsuit. That’s the message from State Superintendent Tom Torlakson.

In an interview, Torlakson responded to an ongoing investigation into K-12 education funding in California by KPBS and the Watchdog Institute, an investigative reporting nonprofit based at San Diego State University. The investigation has found a system of inequity: some districts in wealthy neighborhoods benefit from high property values and property taxes; districts in middle-class and poor neighborhoods rely on the state to make up for their falling property values and taxes, a losing proposition in today’s economy.

Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Above: Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Special Feature Statewide Basic Aid Funding Maps

To search the maps, click on a district to view revenue and per student funding information about that district. The darker the color, the more per-pupil funding the district raised through local revenues.

The Institute’s analysis of education funding data found that some districts have doubled per pupil spending because of increased local tax revenue.

Statewide, 125 basic aid districts have generated a combined $644 million in excess tax revenue. But, the increased funding per student varies greatly across the group, with one district bringing in an extra $4.85 per student while another has more than $13,000 in additional funding to spend per student.

“There are certainly big differences between the resources for various communities, that’s a fact,” said Randolph Ward, San Diego County Superintendent of Schools.

In a 1968 case, Serrano v. Priest, the California Supreme Court ordered the state to address the gap in funding between schools in poor neighborhoods and those in wealthy communities, which could raise more money from property taxes.

In an effort to close that education funding gap, the state introduced revenue limits in 1972, which put a ceiling on how much money schools could raise.

Then, the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 caused property tax revenues to drop. Most neighborhoods didn’t – and still don’t – raise enough money in local property taxes to reach their school revenue limit. So, the state has made up the difference.

But, rising property values and state cuts to education funding have once again created a widening gap between rich and poor districts.

“Some districts, very few, about 124 or so in 2009-2010, have more than enough property taxes to meet their entitlement,” said Margaret Weston, an analyst with the Public Policy Institute of California. “They used to be called basic aid, and now we tend to call them excess tax districts.”

The excess tax districts get to keep the extra tax revenue and can spend it on students.

At least eight such districts statewide – two of which are located in San Diego – more than doubled their revenue limit spending per pupil through excess revenues. Rancho Santa Fe received an additional $5,871 per student over the $4,963 state-determined revenue limit, and Solana Beach brought in $5,080 per student more than its $4,965 revenue limit.

Carmel Unified in Monterey County topped the list with an additional $13,094 per student over the $5,208 revenue limit.

More than one-third of the districts are located in the bay area, and eight are located in San Diego County. To see a map of all districts in the state, click here.

But not all basic aid districts are swimming in funds. Santa Barbara Elementary School District received an additional $4.85 per pupil based on local tax revenues, and San Dieguito Union High got an additional $111 per student. In all, 13 districts received less than $200 per student in additional funding.

For per-pupil figures, the Institute examined excess tax districts with at least 500 students average daily attendance.

A bill that aims to clarify district financials and simplify school funding is making its way through the state legislature. The bill, AB-18, would base funding on the needs of a district, rather than outdated spending formulas. Torlakson said he is in favor of the legislation.

“I think a wiser way to go is to look at the increase in revenues that come back in to the state budget and differentially target those increased revenues towards the districts that are at the low end of the totem pole,” he said.

State and local education officials have known about the inequities created by basic aid districts, but have been at a loss for what to do about them. They’ve cut funding to the districts twice. The 2009-2010 cuts totaled $104 million.

According to the independent Legislative Analyst’s office, the state has the power to redistribute funds among districts within a county. But Torlakson said that’s not the solution.

“That’s just going to create turmoil and conflict between legislators from different regions of the state and between school districts in different regions of the state,” he said.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | June 8, 2011 at 7:46 a.m. ― 5 years, 8 months ago

Exactly. This is what I tried to explain to an obstinate poster on signonsandiego once. It doesn't take genius ro recognize this.

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Avatar for user 'myvellez'

myvellez | June 8, 2011 at 5:05 p.m. ― 5 years, 8 months ago

Thank you for exposing SOME of the inequities in education. This issue does not address the inequity caused by PTAs of wealthy neighborhoods being able to provide great amounts of extra money to their schools. It also does not address intra-district inequities. Go take pictures of the schools in Chula Vista District. Then guess which ones are in the more wealthy neighborhoods. Hint, it will not be hard to guess.

Who had the primary responsibility to make sure that these inequities did not occur? Of course, it was the California Department of Education. So Superintendant Torkelson's lack of disgust is outrageous, but expected.

Kiindergarten Teacher

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | June 8, 2011 at 5:05 p.m. ― 5 years, 8 months ago

I'm one who enjoys the security of Proposition 13, which prevents my property taxes from being raised, and as such prevents the schools to get more money for improvements. Before I'm judged you have to realize that robbing Peter to pay Paul is not the answer. Many of us would lose our homes without the Proposition 13 protection.

That being the case, our government leaders need to put aside personal and professional differences and redistribute what they've got so that kids will benefit. We pay enough taxes as it is. I'm sure if they learn to work together they can make the most of what we give in taxes so that everyone can benefit.

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Avatar for user 'mar90'

mar90 | June 8, 2011 at 11 p.m. ― 5 years, 8 months ago

This argument that the haves should pay for the have-nots is all well & good, but it's also very one-sided. No one seems to be mentioning that the basic aid districts also pay back to the state their "fair share" --- which they do voluntarily. Also, what is neglected is that many of these districts are in communities with high home values to be highly taxed on BECAUSE of their superior schools. It's a major reason why home values have stayed constant while other area's home values have fallen considerably. Take away the right of these schools to succeed with local money and the taxes may just drop as well. Why must what works for some be taken away to fix the problems of other school districts? And even if the dollar per student amount was the same for every school....the playing field would never be equal. Perhaps that should be addressed as well.

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Avatar for user 'duluoz'

duluoz | June 9, 2011 at 8:36 a.m. ― 5 years, 8 months ago

So excess tax districts earn $644M more than they'd get state-wide, but SD Unified's deficit alone is $114M according to the U-T. Somehow, I don't think redistributing the excess tax within the county from 8 small districts to the other 35 will make a dent in per-student funding in the large districts like SD Unified, Oceanside, Poway, Grossmont, Sweetwater, etc. The state's goal should be to raise per-student funding to the level that excess tax districts earn now, rather than taking away opportunities from families who chose to live in high-performing districts.

Also, because school districts first get their local property tax, and then the state makes up the rest of their funding limit, redistributing the local property tax would only benefit the state because they wouldn't have to pay as much in state aid to the other districts. This really sounds like a way to save the state money, not a way to make things equal or improve student achievement with additional funding.

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