Credit: Allison Shelley for American Education
Kindergartners build a marble run inspired by a lesson about movement.

For the first time since its adoption eight years ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to change the formula that determines more than 70% of California school districts’ annual spending. But his plan to direct more money only to districts with the greatest concentration of low-income children is proving to be a tough sell so far to the Legislature.

The Local Control Funding Formula already targets additional funding to school districts based on the enrollment of four groups of students identified as needing additional services. They are low-income, foster and homeless students and English learners. Arguing that “Equal treatment for children in unequal situations is not justice,” former Gov. Jerry Brown persuaded the Legislature to pass the landmark funding law in 2013.

Newsom wants to move a step further by significantly increasing funding under the formula for “concentration” districts, where those qualifying students comprise at least 55% of enrollment. Newsom proposes to add $1.1 billion annually to the formula to enable those districts to hire more staff. More than 2 million low-income children and English learners are enrolled in concentration districts.

California overall has one of the highest ratios of adults to students in schools compared with other states. In keeping with the formula’s “local control” principle, Newsom would let school districts decide whether to hire more math teachers, counselors or classroom aides.

Newsom would also apply additional concentration funding to extend the school day to nine hours, with the additional time for after-school programs like art and hands-on science, and also require 30 extra days for summer school in all concentration districts. He would phase in the money over five years, in $1 billion increments, and then add $5 billion annually to the funding formula starting in 2025-26. That would essentially double funding for concentration districts at that point.

Increasing the concentration funding is a key element of Newsom’s California For All Kids plan that “invests aggressively in equity,” recognizing the pandemic disproportionately harmed the state’s most vulnerable children. High-poverty districts and schools would also be a priority for many of the one-time programs in the $20 billion spending plan. They would include community schools that build partnerships for health and social services as well as teacher recruitment and preparation programs.

Advocacy organizations for low-income children have consistently called for more funding for high-poverty schools and districts and agree with Newsom that it’s imperative now.

“It’s critical that the state double down on improving opportunities in the districts with the most concentrated poverty to help close the in-school and out-of-school equity gaps that the pandemic has only exacerbated,” said John Affeldt, managing attorney for the San Francisco-based public interest law firm Public Advocates. “Tying the concentration grant hike to staffing increases is really smart. We and our community partners have been asking for reductions in staff-to-student ratios for over a decade.”

But both the Senate and Assembly budget committees disagreed with that approach in separate budgets they adopted last week.

Deferring to the three-member education subcommittee led by Sen. John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, the Senate proposes to provide the $1.1 billion for hiring more staff to all districts, not just the concentration districts. The money would be distributed based on each district’s percentage of the four “high-needs” student groups.

The Senate Budget Committee would take the same approach to providing new money for summer school and an extended day. It would fund the programs for districts within three years, under the condition that they offer the programs to at least 50% of their high-needs students.

The Assembly Budget Committee adopted the Senate’s language, assuring that changes to the funding formula will be a central issue in negotiations with the governor that may begin this week.

The Senate-Assembly position is that additional funding should be allocated to reach all high-needs students, including those who aren’t in concentration districts.  There are 750,000 low-income and English learners of those students — about 1 in 8 in the state. For the summer school and expanded learning proposal, the budget committees added $1.5 billion in federal money to the state funding as a way to speed up implementation in three years.

“The Senate proposal gets more money sooner to all districts serving students who are low income, foster youth, or English language learners — not just those in districts with the highest concentrations of these students,” Laird said in a statement.

Several organizations representing school districts, including the California Association of School Business Officials, advocated for that position as well.

“We support providing additional programs and services to California students, especially those with the highest needs. However, we do not support using concentration grant eligibility as a prerequisite as it imposes an artificial threshold that does not correlate with the actual needs of students,” said Steve Ward, legislative analyst in charge of government relations for 41,000-student Clovis Unified. He also is a spokesman for the California School Funding Coalition, which lobbies for increasing the base funding under the formula for all districts.

During a budget hearing earlier this month, Sen. David Min, D-Irvine, questioned K-12 representatives of the California Department of Finance, who presented the budget for the administration.

“Are you looking at the big picture when talking about the needs of our schools?” he asked. Min said he represents districts where 45% and 49% of the students qualify for additional funding for the district but would get no additional funding under Newsom’s proposal. “Those districts are struggling with resources as well,” he said. “I want to make sure we are allocating funds fairly here.”

A complicated formula

The funding formula established a uniform and equitable system for district funding — an improvement over what preceded it. But the rules are complex.

Under the formula, every district gets the same base funding per student. On top of that, a district gets a “supplemental grant” equal to 20% of the base grant for every high-needs student. Under the Legislature’s plan, that would rise to 23%.

Concentration funding is generous — and more so under Newsom’s plan — but it only kicks in when at least 55% of students are designated as high needs. Districts currently get an extra 50% of the base grant for every student above the threshold. It would rise to 65% under Newsom’s plan.

In an average school district in California, 62% of students qualify for extra funding. An EdSource analysis of the two funding alternatives found that districts with fewer than 69% of high-needs students would get more money under the Senate-Assembly proposal and districts with more than 69% would get more under Newsom’s plan.

Stanford University Professor Emeritus Michael Kirst, whose 2007 paper on weighted student funding became the basis for the Local Control Funding Formula, said the size of supplemental and concentration grants wasn’t research-based. It resulted from bargaining with the Legislature in 2013.

The Brown administration tried a number of iterations, including using 35% of the base grant for both the supplemental and concentration grants. Making the numbers work meant satisfying urban districts, like Los Angeles Unified, which wanted more funding than under the existing system, and districts with few low-income families, which wanted at least to be held harmless. The final numbers, including the 55% threshold for concentration funding, were the political compromise it took for passage.

Kirst said he doesn’t favor either Newsom’s or the joint Senate-Assembly proposal. You could make the case for raising supplemental or concentration funding, he said.

Brown made it clear that as long as he was governor, the funding formula would remain intact, to give it time to work. One way or the other, that’s about to change this year.

EdSource data analyst Daniel Willis contributed to this article. 

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  1. Julie Boesch 4 months ago4 months ago

    We hear so much talk about equity and providing equitable opportunities for students. Continuing to use the same formula for every source of funding is just accentuating and creating an even larger divide between what districts are receiving to serve students. CA districts already have such a huge disparity in funding for each child, this only increases the inequity. Those of us who receive little are working as hard as every one else to serve every child.

  2. Brenda Lebsack 4 months ago4 months ago

    Jim,
    My crystal ball shows the same thing. I see Thurmond climbing the political ladder with CTA backing and Dr Al Mijares (OC Superintendent & Edsource Board Member) sliding in his place as State Superintendent with the same CTA backing. The political chess game of positioning, you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours….and CTA smiles with willing culprits to do their bidding.

  3. T. Weller-Curtner 4 months ago4 months ago

    Enough already!! Let us get back to basics. We do not need the "factory worker-prep" K-12 system. We need to focus on all students together. First, reduce class sizes state-wide. We all know that today's students need more one-on-one situations then ever before. More "administrators" do not fulfill that need. A platoon sergeant trains and leads 20 soldiers, why does a California middle school teacher in an urban … Read More

    Enough already!! Let us get back to basics. We do not need the “factory worker-prep” K-12 system. We need to focus on all students together. First, reduce class sizes state-wide. We all know that today’s students need more one-on-one situations then ever before. More “administrators” do not fulfill that need. A platoon sergeant trains and leads 20 soldiers, why does a California middle school teacher in an urban setting have 33-40 students in a single class? And up to 170-180 students all together?

    Super-majority legislature, get your collective act together for the children of all Californians.

  4. Jim 4 months ago4 months ago

    Deja Vu all over again. This was the plan with the LCFF before Torlakson signed the memo saying districts could just have a party with the money. So districts had a party, kids got nothing and now those districts are being sued for not providing any additional services. Looking into my crystal ball I see Tony signing another “party for all” memo and then running for higher office with CTA backing.

  5. Paul Muench 4 months ago4 months ago

    What strikes me most is the arbitrariness of the numbers. Why not more? Why not less? If this is about politics in California then you spend what you can. But if this is about educating children then I keep wondering if we can face up to how much we are short changing students or overfunding schools.

  6. John Affeldt 4 months ago4 months ago

    Both the Legislature and the Administration agree that the funds should be used for critical staffing increases. This use only further favors the Governor’s approach in my mind. Increasing the supplemental grant 3% will only allow minor staffing increases–mere fractions of FTEs in some districts. The 15% concentration grant increase will more readily allow for transformative investments in clusters of new staff at our highest need schools.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 4 months ago4 months ago

      Good point, John.

  7. el 4 months ago4 months ago

    Can you explain this further? "Newsom would also apply additional concentration funding to extend the school day to nine hours, with the additional time for after-school programs like art and hands-on science, and also require 30 extra days for summer school in all concentration districts." Would this be offered to all students in the district? Would summer school be required for concentration students in the district? What if students don't want to attend? Will the funding be … Read More

    Can you explain this further?

    “Newsom would also apply additional concentration funding to extend the school day to nine hours, with the additional time for after-school programs like art and hands-on science, and also require 30 extra days for summer school in all concentration districts.”

    Would this be offered to all students in the district? Would summer school be required for concentration students in the district? What if students don’t want to attend? Will the funding be enough to offer these programs to all students?

    I’m also curious about the choice of a 9 hour school day instead of say sending that funding through the after school ASES programs. Children need downtime too. Will this come with more unstructured but supervised time at school? Will those children still be expected to do homework after their 9 hour day?

    One thing I worry about with some of the these ideas is the way they can accidentally divide low income students away from higher income students, such that friendships and social interactions are broken by the different schedules. In my experience, this works to the detriment of both groups of students. I hope this is a concern that is understood and addressed by people who are working out the rules for these programs.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 4 months ago4 months ago

      Good questions, el, for which there are only some answers at this point. Keep in mind that the budget proposed by legislative leaders takes a significantly different approach and so there will be negotiations over the next several weeks. Then there will be a lengthier trailer bill with more details. You can read the trailer bill section of the trailer bill here (see page 84, section 39) You can see that the governor is proposing … Read More

      Good questions, el, for which there are only some answers at this point.

      Keep in mind that the budget proposed by legislative leaders takes a significantly different approach and so there will be negotiations over the next several weeks. Then there will be a lengthier trailer bill with more details.

      You can read the trailer bill section of the trailer bill here (see page 84, section 39) You can see that the governor is proposing to make the longer day and summer program available to all students in K-6 in the “concentration” districts. (The Legislature would spread the money to all districts but require that it be offered to at least half of low-income students and English learners.)

      Newsom’s bill would require supervision by at least someone with an instructional aide’s qualifications.

      You raise a good point about funding after-school programs run by non-profits (ACES). One of the emerging issues is that many school districts have been overwhelmed planning for summer programs for more students this year, given all that they have been facing with reopening schools. In a few weeks we will learn whether they have put together good programs. Many will probably have missed the opportunity, and parents will be at a loss. I hope the state collects data so that we know.

      Money’s not the issue. Efficiency and capacity are. Non-profit leaders are asking the Legislature to carve out at least $1 billion out of the billions in federal money districts are getting in funding directly for non-profits. That’s an idea worth serious consideration, though it’s not clear it is on the Legislature’s and Newsom’s radar at this point. Not all funding should go through the districts, which tend to squeeze the non-profit providers, many of which then need to do extra fundraising to do quality programs — so I have been told.

      • el 4 months ago4 months ago

        Thanks for the answers. Our local district receives concentration funds so this is of quite specific interest. I'm really excited about the summer programs our school was able to pull together; they seem both very fun and very worthwhile. Science, art, field trips, lots of general project bonding. The teachers and the community both seem pretty excited about them. Money is always an issue one way or another, and it's not just in the short term … Read More

        Thanks for the answers. Our local district receives concentration funds so this is of quite specific interest. I’m really excited about the summer programs our school was able to pull together; they seem both very fun and very worthwhile. Science, art, field trips, lots of general project bonding. The teachers and the community both seem pretty excited about them.

        Money is always an issue one way or another, and it’s not just in the short term but in the long term sustainability. If the Governor asked us to double our certificated staff but was only going to fund it for 2 years that’s just not doable. No one wants to take the training and relocate under those terms at a rate that is going to be affordable or justifiable. Teachers are already in short supply, which is again partially our collective fault because we’re trying to fund and hire based on a just-in-time world, and we expect the labor pool to bear that cost for us.

        One nice thing about the ASES program (versus forcing schools to expand and then contract) is that it gives flexibility to run those enrichment and longer supervision programs with smart and talented people who aren’t credentialed teachers, which creates some additional capacity to bring in specialists in fields like music and computer programming, for example. In our case we have a longstanding and successful program there already, especially for the younger grades. It’s also optional for students who have other activities they wish to pursue. The downside is that it’s typically underfunded for pay rates for those smart, talented people.

        • John Fensterwald 4 months ago4 months ago

          Thanks for the example, el.