Schools Will See More Dollars, New Funding System
CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, California's new budget comes with more money for schools, and a whole new formula for funding education in the state. Governor Jerry Brown's plan to even the playing field emerged from the legislature largely in tact, and supporters say the new funding mechanism will allow local districts to have greater control over state education dollars. Critics are concerned about fairness and the accountability measures in the new plan. My guests, Randy Ward is superintendent of the San Diego County office of education. Welcome to the program. WARD: Thank you for having me. CAVANAUGH: And Kyla Calvert is here, KPBS education reporter. CALVERT: Hi, Maureen. CAVANAUGH: It's my understanding that the state school funding has been incredibly complicated for years because of program-specific funds that districts have to deal with. Can you explain how that worked? WARD: It not only has been complicated, it has been incredibly inequitable. And what we had here since the '70s, lawsuits that question the equity in the funding mechanism, then in 1983, we had prop 13, and the implementation of what was supposed to be an equitable funding system. This system that we're going to have now tries to get at equity, fundamentalally how resources are distributed for public education. CAVANAUGH: It's my understanding is that before this change, districts would get a lot of money for just one thing, and then they would have to come up with reasons they were using it. WARD: They were called restricted funds. And you would have 20, 30 different funding programs for different types of kids, different programs, etc, and it was a nightmare. You had to have improvement plans on each of those, and accountability mechanisms for each. What this does is brings it all together in terms of one plan and allows responsibility for local school districts and their boards and leadership to decide how to use that fund. CAVANAUGH: Does that mean that what schools are now geting now, base grants, fundament all fundingly, all in one pot now? WARD: Yes. Of I think there are still some restricted fund, but for the most part they will get it in one big block Grant called a base grant, and that amount has gone up for all school districts. But it's a real win for equity in terms of those students who have needed more resources for the last 50 years. CAVANAUGH: So when people are saying that this gives more control to the local community; it means it takes those funds off and allows the districts to decide how to use that money. CAVANAUGH: That's the idea. There's already some talk about another type accountability system that would still track where the funding went and how it's used. The problem with this whole process has been -- there's a basic formula that says if we use this formula, we get equity. Then there's what's called a compromise. And that's why it took three decade bes for this to come around. There are people who get more funding and nose that get less funding. I would argue that many districts that happen to be in a certain Zip Code got more funding because of their Zip Code and the property tax not because of the needs of students. So those critics were too critical when they funding was available for 30 years. So it changes fundamentally. It's very important, and it changes the distribution system. CAVANAUGH: Kyla, start to break this down for us, if you would. How much more the this mean per student in San Diego? CALVERT: Well, it will vary by district. For San Diego Unified for the coming year, it'll increase their per student funding by about $320 to $7,200 per student. The base of funding varies by the grade level, but the average is about $7,600 per student. CAVANAUGH: And the cornerstone of the overhaul is extra money and concentration grants to high-needs students and districts. What's the criteria for a high-needs student, and what kind of additional funding will they be getting? CALVERT: The formula identifies three groups of high-need students. Students who are still learning English, those who are in foster care, and those who come from low-income households. So for each student who falls into one of those groups, but an unduplicated count. So if you're an English learner who comes from a low-income household, you're only counted one time. And districts will get 20%. That base funding for each. Those high-needs students. And then districts who are comprised of 55% or more of students who are in those high-needs group, they'll get an additional 50% bump for students -- for each student above that threshold. CAVANAUGH: So the high-needs students can be in any district, but the concentration grants only go to those districts that have 55% who would fall into that high-needs category? CALVERT: Right. CAVANAUGH: Will certain districts then without a lot of high-needs students, will they be getting less money from the state? CALVERT: When it comes to the coming budget year, districts are either getting more money or -- when the governor started talking about implementing this new system, there was this whole idea of holds harmless. No district is going to be losing money going into the next budget year. There's been an argument over time whether districts will fair better under the old or the new system. They've done these projections out to the year, the school year, 2021 looking at how districts would fair. If the old system stayed in place or the new system were in place, and I don't know how much really faith you can put into projections that go out that far. CAVANAUGH: I understand. Now, Randy -- WARD: We have a hard time putting projections into next year. [ LAUGHTER ] WARD: Forget about eight years down the road! CAVANAUGH: Do you go with the governor's basic rationale for apportioning more money to these high-needs students and districts? WARD: Absolutely. I think about the school district they live in. It happens to be a baseball aid district. They receive quite a bit more per student. And when my children went to school, they were reading in kindergarten. And ready to go. And when I think about some of the other districts that I worked in, Compton, Oakland where we have high numbers of these students, and as a kindergarten teacher in the projects of Cambridge, those kids come in very different. For the most part, on average, two, three years behind. You need extra intervention programs, tutoring. Extra adults in the room. And even outside of the classroom, we had a full crew of painters in Compton. They never painted inside classrooms. They painted 24/7, 365 graffiti. That's illustrative of how those resources are used. And it's not the students doing all of that. It may be a few in the community that are doing it. But they're subject to those resources going for graffiti paint out versus for painting in the classroom to enhance the environment. CAVANAUGH: What about the argument some people have that it's wrong to give more tax dollars to some school districts as opposed to others? In terms of basic fairness as to how the dollars are used. WARD: I always look at it as if -- I have two children. I don't treat them the same. Some of them -- one likes to hug more than the other. One likes to -- one night needs a bike, the other one wants a scooter. Equity is about providing for an equal amount of achievement, not necessarily equal amounts of resources. They could be very different to get to the same level of achievement. CAVANAUGH: Kyla, this is being called an important and circuit change for schools in California. But it won't be happening overnight. Can you tell us a little bit of how the school funding change going to be rolled out? CALVERT: The rollout is -- the formula is in place, or will be in place when this new fiscal year starts. But basically the promise that Governor Jerry Brown is making is saying -- he's saying using this new formula, we are going to take school districts back to the sort of funding projection they were on before this recession started. So the formulas in place, the old system is gone. But over the next eight years, what the legislature and the governor are betting on is that the economy is going to continue to improve, we're going to be able to increase funding to school districts and using this formula by that year, 2021, districts are going to be back to at least the level they would have been in terms of there's. The level that they would have been if all of these cuts of the last five or six years hadn't happened, and districts had been getting that cost of living increase too. So the rollout has to do with how much money is being filtered through this new system over the next eight years. WARD: And Kyla, do you think that over time with legislator change, governor is not going to be there for the full eight years, that there's potential for this compromise to continually work back toward the old formula? CALVERT: Well, the idea that we're going to project out eight years is pretty optimistic. The idea that the next year is going to come, and all the legislatures are going to say oh, this is working out just awesome! Our districts love it, nobody is going to be lobbying them to change it? That seems unrealistic. I was speaking with Laura Duzek this weekend about what she's going to be telling districts about planning for the coming year. And she was saying that as with any new system, districts are going to have to be very careful about how they budget their money before they really understand what the new accountability measures are going to be. They're still being drawn out. In terms of where they put their money, they're going to have to hedge their bets about what happens in the future. And previously districts have been calculating, projecting how much money they're going to be getting from the state based on their enrollment. Now they will have to do that plus anticipate demographic shifts because where English learners live, where low-income families live, that changes over time. So not only do I think it's probably unlikely the system will remain unchanged over eight years, but it's also unlikely that affluent people and les affluent people will live in the same places, that foster students will be concentrated in the same places in eight years. CAVANAUGH: Right now though, how many school districts are also in line for these concentration grants? CALVERT: Well, I have a spreadsheet here. And it looks like half or fewer of the districts qualify for those concentration grants. San Diego Unified has 67% high-needs needs. There are districts, National Elementary School district, they are high-needs. And ranch Santa Fe has 5% high-needs students. Julian June High School says 7%, that might not be accurate. >> I would think that many of those districts because of the yellow population are south of the 8. But there are some districts like Escondido and others that are north because of the poverty levels. CAVANAUGH: Doctor Ward, I want to ask you about accountability and community involvement. I believe you see parents being very much involved in the budget process in these districts why is that? WARD: I always have believed in that. That the budget, effective instruction and what gets you high student achievement as a parent, as a school, as a leader, and as a community. And the more our parents are educated, and thus need to be involved, the more they will understand what the board is doing, what the budget means, what the academic plan signifies for not only their children but the children that sit in the classroom around the room. And I think across the state, processes need to be developed for that to happen in a genuine way. CAVANAUGH: And with that involvement of parents in community in how the districts are spending the money they're getting from the state, do you see that in and of itself to be a form of accountability? WARD: Yes, I do, if there is a mechanism for advocacy for those parents. CAVANAUGH: Is there? WARD: I think in some districts there are, and in others there are not as much. And certainly it's upon communities to create their own advocacy mechanisms.
California’s newly adopted budget includes a measure to rebuild the state’s formula for funding schools from scratch.
As a result, every San Diego County school district will see per-pupil state funding go up for the coming school year. It’ll be the first of eight years of phasing in a new state system for funding public schools. If all goes according to plan and the state's economy continues to improve, by the 2020-21 school year, most districts will be funded at the levels they would have reached by that time under the previous formula without years of funding cuts due to the economic downturn.
In the place of a per-pupil funding plan that was supplemented by about 70 program-specific funding sources, the state will simplify the way schools are funded. This coming year, the base funding goes up about $500 to more than $7,600 per student. Then districts will get a 20 percent bump for each student who is learning English as a second language, lives in a low-income household or is in foster care. Finally, districts will get another bump if 55 percent or more of their students are in one of these high-needs groups.
Assuming district enrollments and student demographics don’t shift dramatically before school starts in the fall, San Diego County schools will be getting almost $165 million more in state funding. San Diego city schools will receive about $320 more per student.
In the last several years, district were given flexibility to use program-specific funds to cover other costs to cope with about a 23 percent reduction in schools funding from the state, according to Lora Duzyk, assistant superintendent of business services for the San Diego County Office of Education. Because of that flexibility, Duzyk said districts will likely not have to change their budgets much for the coming year to accomodate the new formula.
Without programatic-ties to state funds under the student-based funding system, districts will have more autonomy in their budget-making decisions. The Legislature has also created new accountability requirements where districts will have to show how their budget priorities are tied to improving academic performance -- especially for students in the high-needs groups targeted by the new funding system. However, the state department of education has until January 2014 to draw up the details of the accountability requirements.
Duzyk said districts will have to spend cautiously until they fully understand the new accountability systems and how shifting demographics will impact district budgets that were previously based on enrollment and attendance data.