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California Parents In Dark About New School-Funding System

More than half of California’s public school parents — 57 percent — said they know nothing at all about the state’s new school-funding system, according to a survey released Thursday by California nonprofit EdSource. That new system gives school districts more spending flexibility. But it also requires them to get input from parents about where state funds are used.

Aired 12/6/13 on KPBS News.

While only 9 percent of parents reported having heard a lot about California's new funding system, about 75 percent said they would be willing to helping direct spending plans once it was explained to them.

Earlier this week Moises Aguirre, executive director of district relations for San Diego Unified, explained the new system (in Spanish) to about 50 parents at Sherman Elementary School.

A majority of Sherman students are learning English as a second language and almost all live in low-income households. The state’s new funding system funnels more money to districts with high-needs students like these.

Districts receive a base funding amount per student. There is an increase for each high-needs student a district has, which means a student learning English, living in a low-income household, or who is in foster care. Districts like San Diego Unified, where more than 55 percent of students fall into one of these categories, also receive an additional funding bump called a concentration grant.

Sherman Elementary parent committee member Minerva Espejo said they requested the Spanish version of the presentation, which is being given to parents across the district.

“This is so important that you get the information in your own language — then you can understand importance of the topic," she said. "Sometimes you miss a lot of parts because the language; you can understand English, but it’s not the same impact of your own language.”

The EdSource survey shows districts may have to do more outreach, like the Sherman Elementary presentation, in order to get the parental input required for drawing up district plans on how to spend the new state funds. Survey responses showed parents with annual incomes less than $30,000 are generally less involved in their children’s schools than parents with incomes above $100,000. Overall, 76 percent of parents said they were very, or somewhat, involved in their children's schools.

While only 9 percent of parents reported having heard a lot about the new funding system, about three quarters said they would be willing to spend more time helping direct school district spending plans once the system was explained to them.

Parents said more convenient meeting times, more advanced notice of meetings, child care and communicating in languages other than English were some of the things that could boost their participation at school.

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