Twenty-two of the 50 largest districts in the state would receive more money under Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed K-12 funding formula when it’s fully funded, potentially in seven years, while 28 districts would do better if additional money were simply divvied up under the current system, with no reforms, according to data provided this week by the state Department of Finance. Of course, glaring problems with  the current system would also persist if nothing were done.

Here is a sample of how much the largest 50 districts currently receive in per student revenue (column E), how they'd fare under the Local Control Funding Formula when fully funded (column F) and under the status quo (column G). The difference is column H; positive numbers indicated districts would do better without reforms, negative numbers they'd do better under the LCFF. Districts with high concentrations of low-income and English learners (columns C and D) would get more money under the governor's plan. Source: Department of Finance. Click to enlarge.

Here is a sample of how much the largest 50 districts currently receive in per student revenue (column E), how they’d fare under the Local Control Funding Formula when fully funded (column F) and under the status quo (column G). The difference is column H; positive numbers indicated districts would do better without reforms, negative numbers they’d do better under the LCFF. Districts with high concentrations of low-income and English learners (columns C and D) would get more money under the governor’s plan. Source: Department of Finance. (Click to enlarge.)

Legislators had been waiting for that piece of information – a comparison of how the state’s approximately 2,000 districts and charter schools would fare under Brown’s proposed Local Control Funding Formula versus how they’d do under the status quo – in order to evaluate Brown’s plan for remaking the way K-12 schools are financed. (As it has done before, Finance did not release a spreadsheet with data that could be reworked, but rather provided an unwieldy 52-page PDF document.)

The new figures may reinforce the calls for changes to Brown’s formula, specifically to raise the base level of per-student funding for all districts, and to make technical fixes. But they also support the principles behind the reforms: the need for uniformity, rationality and fairness in funding.

“We need the information to make an honest comparison,” said Assemblymember Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, who, as chair of the Assembly Budget Committee’s education subcommittee, sought the district breakdowns. “The Legislature will have the opportunity to take the information and come forward with a complementary or alternative proposal into the next level of negotiation” with the Brown administration, she said.

Because Brown is proposing to channel significantly more money to districts with large numbers of low-income students and English learners, he is intending that  districts with high-needs students would do relatively better under a new formula. He also wants to fix historical anomalies and inequities in which districts with similar students have been funded at sometimes vastly different amounts.

The problem was that the Department of Finance had previously released figures comparing only what districts received in 2011-12, the base year, and what they’d get under the Local Control Funding Formula in 2019-20. Since the Department is predicting that Proposition 30 and a rebounding economy would pump $15.5 billion in new money – about 30 percent more – into the system during that time, the rising tide tended to make all boats look like yachts.

Under the plan, no district would receive less than they get now. Brown promises to repay most of the 22 percent in cuts all districts had experienced since 2007-08. On top of a newly restored base level of funding for all children, he would add a supplement for English learners and low-income students and a bonus amount to districts with the highest concentrations of high-needs children. In total, most districts would get, on average, $2,000 to $3,000 or more per child than now, amounting to increases of 30 to even 50 percent.

Comparing full funding under the Local Control Funding Formula with full funding in 2019-20 under the status quo offers a different perspective. The magnitude of the difference between reform and doing nothing shrinks. That’s because even under the current system, some “categorical” programs, like the billion dollar Economic Impact Aid, already go only to high-needs students. By status quo, the Department of Finance assumed that all districts would regain money lost in cuts to their base revenue limits, plus missed cost-of-living adjustments. Whatever was left over from the projected new money, about $7 billion, theoretically would be distributed equally per child, with nothing extra for needy kids.

Under the comparison, Santa Ana Unified, one of the biggest beneficiaries, with 78 percent low-income students and 53 percent English learners, would get an extra $1,668, or 16 percent per student more, under the Local Control Funding Formula, bringing it to $11,804. Fresno Unified, another historically underfunded district, would get $11,636:  $1,306 more per child – 13 percent – than under the status quo.

At the other end are districts like San Ramon Valley Unified in Contra Costa County, with only 2.5 percent low-income students and 4.6 percent English learners. Already one of the lowest state funded district per capita, at $5,987 per student, it would get $8,317 under the fully funded Local Control Funding Formula. While that is $2,330 more, it is nonetheless $1,420, or 14.5 percent less per student, than it would get under a fully funded status quo. Despite Brown’s promise to restore all cuts to the base revenue amount districts received before the recession, districts like San Ramon complain that they still won’t get back to their full spending power of five years ago, when they also had categorical funding for textbooks, counselors and teacher training. Bob Blattner, a Sacramento-based education consultant, estimates that as many as one-quarter of the state’s districts may not have funding restored to the full 2007-08 levels, based a slightly different analysis done by the state Department of Education.

Brown’s formula does not include federal spending, locally raised dollars through parcel taxes and district foundations, and it excludes some significant programs, such as special education.

An analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California pointed out that districts with largely disadvantaged students generally do fare better than wealthier districts under the current system of categorical programs, but there are large disparities based on outdated, inconsistently applied formulas.

An example is Long Beach and nearby Los Angeles Unified, each with similar students (about 70 percent low-income, slightly more English learners in Los Angeles). Yet Los Angeles Unified currently receives $1,273 more per student than Long Beach, primarily because it receives $800 per student in desegregation money that most districts don’t get. The gap wouldn’t close, but would narrow under the Local Control Funding Formula, with Long Beach getting $1,070 more per student than it would get without funding reform; Los Angeles Unified, while keeping its desegregation dollars, would get less than half of that increase.


Filed under: Equity issues, Featured, K-12 Reform, Local Control Funding Formula, Proposition 98, Reporting & Analysis, School Finance · Tags: , ,

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  1. el says:

    Thanks for posting that, even though my neck is now sore from reading it sideways. :-)

    I think fundamentally this points back to the idea that we need to consider what it should cost to educate an ordinary student and make sure that the base amount covers that. I would also like to better understand why the LCFF numbers end up so different for every district.

    1. John Fensterwald says:

      I’m with you, el. I don’t understand why Finance releases a pdf instead of a spreadsheet. Anyway, you can download it, then switch the view yourself 90 degrees. My apologies on behalf of your government.
      John

    2. navigio says:

      Sideways? I tried rotating it and only could get it upside down. Now I have a headache from standing on my head for half an hour… though it made more sense that way.. ;-)

      I think it should be illegal to post PDFs that are not searchable or are just scanned images. But that would mean we actually care about transparency and understanding..

    3. Paul Muench says:

      Time to get an iPad, lock the screen, and turn the device instead of your neck. This was clearly part of Finance’s plan to help boost our economy :)

  2. navigio says:

    In the end this will pass to some extent irrespective of whether there is more or less money. The reason is that the real issue is that this money becomes general-use and doesnt have to be used for compensatory kids. From that perspective, even less money looks like more from the district perspective (and more money looks like a LOT more). What the committees should be discussing is only partly the actual numbers, but also whether current compensatory funding (and usage) is helping disadvantaged students. The arguments I’ve heard so far is that it is not because it is mostly being misused. Of course, what we really want to know is whether it would have been helping the kids had it been used properly, but that would take something more than a paper tiger version of accountability, so we will never know. Since districts must approve even school-level usage decisions already (ie they condone and support this ‘misuse’), my expectation is that the flexibility will not result in a more effective use of these funds for targeted kids, rather as a way to close budget gaps. But I think that will be ok and even welcome for most people.

  3. Paul Muench says:

    This data is still inaccurate. Our district is not 99% free and reduced lunch. We received a warning about this from our Superintendent. I guess the state has still not fixed this problem. Of course this makes a huge difference in the amount of funding we would get. So I reccomemd verifying your districts assumptions before relying on these numbers.

    1. John Fensterwald says:

      I don’t know about your district specifically, Paul, but at a legislative hearing on the LCFF and at a PPIC forum yesterday, several speakers referred to potential problems with using free and reduced lunch data. I believe John Mockler may have noted that some schools, where most students are low-income, serve subsidized meals to all students and report 100 percent participation. Some charters that don’t serve meals don’t report any students as qualifying. All predicated there would be efforts, with so much money at stake, to sign up more parents, particularly in high schools, where participation falls off sharply. One option would be to have the county offices audit the accuracy of the data. There doesn’t seem much interest in switching measures.
      There also are potential problems with data for English learners. To discourage districts from not reclassifying English learners, the governor proposes to limit supplemental funding for those students to five years, which may be insufficient for some/many students (experts disagree). Since as many as 80 percent of EL are also low-income and would qualify for extra aid anyway, the issue may not be that critical. But the new policy should not lead to the twin harms of over-classification of students as English learners or the premature end to assistance for them.

      1. navigio says:

        Yes, this is why the ‘compensatory participation’ rates reported on, for example, Ed-data can differ so greatly from the rates of ell and/or f&r. Was the state clear about which it actually used? (It probably also should have provided the actual unduplicated rate–I expect it had that since its what the calcs are based on).
        Currently, many recent European families who should technically qualify as ell avoid the question of 2nd language at home because they don’t want their child classified as ell. I don’t know whether the district will try to do anything more strong-armed to include them, but it obviously would be financially (and academically) beneficial to do so. In my experience, many would not qualify for f&r.
        The charter under reporting is a real issue as well, but of course, that is one reason charters exist (‘freedom’ to not participate in such programs). It would be interesting to understand whether they would suddenly become obligated to actually provide meals if they chose to start using the f&r classification. I expect so.