Resolving to transform our school finance system

January 3, 2013

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Ted Lempert

Each new year brings the opportunity for a fresh start and renewed purpose. For many of us committed to improving student achievement and promoting excellence in all of California’s schools, our resolve in 2013 is aimed at finally reforming the state’s convoluted education finance system. Governor Jerry Brown wants to get this critical education reform done in 2013, giving us a historic opportunity to realize the equity, transparency and increased local control that the state’s education system sorely needs.

Discussions around this issue began last year when the governor presented a new finance model as part of his budget package. Although the general concept was lauded by many, the specific proposal did not advance and was tabled until after the November election. Much has changed since then: Most notably, the governor’s education policy and finance staff are spending a significant amount of time reworking the proposal to address issues that were raised last year and shared during stakeholder workshops held this fall. By all accounts, the governor’s 2013 proposal will be different and deserves fresh, full and fair consideration by all.

In fact, a number of organizations join Children Now in calling for the further development and adoption of a Weighted Student Formula concept in 2013, including the ACLU, California School Boards Association, Californians for Justice, Campaign for Quality Education, The Education Trust – West, EdVoice, MALDEF, New Schools Venture Fund, Parent Leadership Action Network, Public Advocates, Silicon Valley Leadership Group, United Ways of California, Youth Together, and many others. These groups were joined by leading superintendents, including Jon R. Gundry (Pasadena Unified), Vincent Matthews (San Jose Unified), Jonathan P. Raymond (Sacramento City Unified) and Tony Smith (Oakland Unified).

By all accounts, California’s school finance system—which determines the dollars that districts, schools and classrooms receive and how those dollars may be used—is unnecessarily complex, irrational and inequitable by any measure. In other words, it’s doing a remarkably poor job of matching resources with student needs and must be changed.

We believe it is time for California to move forward and implement education finance reform that fosters local control. For far too long we have evaluated and bemoaned the failings and inequities of the current funding system, and now we have a chance to fundamentally restructure it for the better. We must seize upon the opportunity presented by Gov. Brown’s commitment and begin working earnestly on designing a school finance system that removes the red tape and “command and control” at the state level and allows educators to meet the needs of their local students.

Implementing such a system can achieve equity, transparency and accountability for the children of California. But this will only happen if those of us engaged in the policy process remain at the table and commit to working through the difficult details that will need to be tackled to effectively restructure California’s dysfunctional funding system for schools and correct the inequities and complexities that exist.

We resolve to do all we can to make that happen in 2013, and hope that others will too.

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Ted Lempert is the president of Children Now, the leading nonpartisan, multi-issue research, policy development, and advocacy organization dedicated to promoting children’s health and education in California, and the leader of The Children’s Movement of California.

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