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Experts Recommend California’s Next Governor Stay The Course On Brown’s Ed Reforms

California Gov. Jerry Brown listens to a question concerning his proposed 201...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: California Gov. Jerry Brown listens to a question concerning his proposed 2018-19 state budget at a news conference Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif.

UPDATE: Oct. 15, 2018

The gap between what the state spends on education now and what it would need to spend to provide what educators say is an adequate education is larger than researchers initially reported in September. They say the state's schools are underfunded by $25.6 billion, not $22.1 billion, as initially estimated in "Getting Down to Facts II."

In a correction sent to reporters, American Institutes for Research says the research team mistakenly double-counted some expenditures, overestimating per pupil spending by $550 and underestimating the ideal spending level by $90 per student.

Original story: Sept. 18, 2018

“Complex” and “irrational” were two of the words used to describe California’s education system in a 2007 report called “Getting Down to Facts.” A decade later, a follow-up to that report paints a rosier picture — and a roadmap for California’s next governor.

In the report, researchers across the country say the Local Control Funding Formula passed under Gov. Jerry Brown has put California schools on the right track.

In a nutshell, it streamlined school funding by giving districts uniform base funding, then adding money for students who are English-language learners, low income or in foster care. It also gave districts more control in spending those additional funds.

“The changes that have happened in the last 10 years are huge,” said Jennifer Imazeki, an economics professor at San Diego State University who was a researcher on the project. “We went from having the most convoluted, inefficient, messed-up finance system to one of the most streamlined and simple.”

Students are improving as a result, the report says, but gaps persist.

“California (white line) was far behind — by more than one grade level — the nation (yellow line) two decades ago,” the report says. “Though the difference has steadily declined, the average scores of California’s students remained considerably below the national average in 2017.”

Photo credit: "Getting Down to Facts II"

A chart from "Getting Down to Facts II" shows the scores of California fourth- and eighth-graders compared to the national average scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress reading and math assessments from 1998 to 2017.

Students in the state’s less affluent districts lag even further behind their peers nationwide. The report says they score nearly a full grade level behind. A similar trend emerges among students of color.

Funding levels also lag behind other states. The report says the system is underfunded by more than $22.1 billion — a figure that will keep growing alongside growing pension debt.

Photo credit: "Getting Down to Facts II"

A chart from "Getting Down to Facts II" shows the average per pupil spending in California compared to states of similar size.

But Imazeki said California’s next governor shouldn’t wipe the slate clean because of these challenges.

“What these studies are saying is lots of good stuff. Don’t throw out the good stuff,” she said. “We need to give it time, and we need to make sure that folks are supported to take full advantage of the changes that have been made before we start changing other things.”

RELATED: How A $13.8 Million Gift Could Help Close San Diego's Child Care Gap

For example, the data show students are lagging, not because they aren’t learning in school, but because they’re starting school unprepared. So the new governor ought to complement past reform with early education reform, among other things.

California will elect a new governor in November.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include a revision of statistics from the authors of "Getting Down to Facts II."

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