Credit: Allison Shelley for American Education

A new proposal to continue high levels of funding for California school districts would, if enacted, remove incentives for the public schools to improve themselves.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, recently proposed SB 830, which would switch the way public schools are funded, from the current average-daily-attendance calculations to yearly enrollment.

Under average daily attendance, schools receive funding for students who actually attend school. When students miss school, schools receive less funding.

Portantino’s proposal would guarantee funding to school districts based on the number of students who enroll in a public school regardless of whether they attend classes.

The initial debate over Portantino’s proposal has been over whether it incentivizes absenteeism.

Education analyst Catherine Wheeler criticized the legislation saying, “There’s no incentive for schools to go after [students] anymore to go to class.”

For his part, Portantino claims that part of the funding contained in his bill would go to address absenteeism and truancy.

Portantino and his critics, however, miss the real disincentives contained in the proposal. The issue is not how to bean count students — nor even if the bill would cause schools to turn a blind eye to student attendance — but, rather, to understand why students are not going to school.

Under Portantino’s legislation, public schools will have little incentive to address the things they are doing that cause students to stop attending.

For example, supporters of Portantino’s proposal, such as Los Angeles school board President Kelly Gonez, argue that poor students in her district are more likely to be chronically absent. Why, however, are they absent?

Even before the pandemic, California public schools were failing to prepare poor children. On the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress eighth grade reading and math exams, more than 8 out of 10 low-income California students failed to perform at the desired proficient level.

During the pandemic, the failure of the public schools increased. In Gonez’s Los Angeles schools, Latinos, African Americans, English learners, students with disabilities, foster youth and homeless students had much higher rates of D and F grades in fall 2020 than the previous fall.

Much of that failure resulted from foot-dragging by district officials and the Los Angeles teachers union to reopen schools to full in-person instruction.

One Los Angeles mom said her children had only learned a fifth of what they should have learned during the school year. Her children only received two hours of daily instruction during distance learning and one of her kids received no homework.

“Our kids at LAUSD,” she said, “are at a disadvantage compared to other districts.”

What has been Los Angeles’ response? Last fall, the district limited the handing out of D’s and F’s.

One teacher in Oakland Unified, which also limits D’s and F’s, said, “Not reporting D’s and F’s is the equivalent of lying about a student’s progress.”

Yet, Los Angeles, Oakland and other poor-performing districts would have no incentive to address their deficiencies and poor performance if funding was guaranteed, without any impact from students staying away from school because of failed district policies.

Further, guaranteeing funding disincentivizes districts from learning from the practices of popular education alternatives.

In Los Angeles, the percentage of households home schooling their children shot up from roughly 3% in spring 2020 to 11% in fall 2021.

Home schooling offers a variety of advantages that appeal to parents, including choice of curriculum, flexible scheduling, individualized learning and pacing and no Covid-related mandates.

Would a move to such parent- and student-friendly practices curtail chronic absenteeism in the public schools? Perhaps, but guaranteed funding, regardless of absenteeism, would certainly not promote exploration of such practices by schools.

For California’s chronically failing public school system, reforms need to be geared to incentivizing the adoption of proven strategies that will raise the achievement of students and meet their individual needs.

Guaranteeing school funding regardless of whether students think schools are worth attending will not improve the quality of public education in California.

•••

Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute and author of the new book “The Homeschool Boom: Pandemic, Policies, and Possibilities.”

To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.

Share Article

Comments (8)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * *

Comments Policy

We welcome your comments. All comments are moderated for civility, relevance and other considerations. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

  1. Ann T Halvorsen,Ed.D. 4 months ago4 months ago

    It's important to note in this discussion that CA is one of only six states that has implemented and still has ADA based funding over the decades. These states include Texas, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, (& CA). None boast stellar public education records and outcomes. The remaining 34 states that use enrollment counts as the mechanism include the highest performing states, and among them, many highly diverse districts (e.g. Maryland, Massachusetts). We should stop … Read More

    It’s important to note in this discussion that CA is one of only six states that has implemented and still has ADA based funding over the decades. These states include Texas, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, (& CA). None boast stellar public education records and outcomes. The remaining 34 states that use enrollment counts as the mechanism include the highest performing states, and among them, many highly diverse districts (e.g. Maryland, Massachusetts). We should stop penalizing our students and schools in comparison to the vast majority of states and the public, high poverty rural and urban districts that need these dollars most. Nothing in the proposed bill would stop school and district efforts to ensure better attendance.

  2. Jennifer Bestor 4 months ago4 months ago

    SB 830 makes the key assumption that the LCFF’s 20% supplemental and 50% concentration grant multipliers, used against an ADA base, do not equitably address the issue of absenteeism. The data, available from ed-data.org and plotted in MS Excel, do not support that assumption — though the results are fascinating. The best-fit relationship between absenteeism and disadvantage (as measured by ‘unduplicated’ percentage) is both very weak AND not a straight line. It is an arc … Read More

    SB 830 makes the key assumption that the LCFF’s 20% supplemental and 50% concentration grant multipliers, used against an ADA base, do not equitably address the issue of absenteeism. The data, available from ed-data.org and plotted in MS Excel, do not support that assumption — though the results are fascinating.

    The best-fit relationship between absenteeism and disadvantage (as measured by ‘unduplicated’ percentage) is both very weak AND not a straight line. It is an arc — with its apex just after 55%. (This startled me, but, yes, the curve starts down from predicted absenteeism high of 11% at the point where the value of getting a child into school jumps to $83/day to a district.) After 90% disadvantage, the predictive curve has dropped to the same 8% as it shows at 20% disadvantage.

    So the LCFF concentration grant seems to be working, at least in terms of pulling absenteeism down.

    Does that mean it works for every district? No. Plotting just the 29 large (10K+) districts in Los Angeles County, we see an interesting pattern. The 12 districts below 70% unduplicated generally operate in a band between 3% to 8%, albeit with three at 13%. Twelve of the 17 districts over 70% unduplicated manage absenteeism under 10%, but five of them range significantly above that. LAUSD, a major proponent of SB 830, reports data indicating 28% absenteeism (with 82% unduplicated), while Compton data shows 22% (at 96% unduplicated). (In comparison, the data from Lynwood and Pomona (at 94% and 91% unduplicated) show 7% absenteeism.) So things get squirrelly at the high end of disadvantage — but all high-disadvantage districts are certainly not performing equivalently.

    That data suggest that changing the LCFF index to address the issue — with requirements that turn LCFF funding partly into a new categorical — may be an expensive way of addressing a more specific problem. And, as the commentary points out, this approach could be even be counterproductive — requiring districts to merely expend resources, rather than producing results. Adding the additional tracking and reporting requirements could be slow and administratively expensive. And, while in Year 1 no district would ‘lose’ from the change, there is no upward rebenching of Prop 98, so over time this would represent a very real shift of resources.

    Meanwhile, while not very supportive of the main thesis, this data set does hint at more interesting dynamics — specifically in the area of school funding adequacy.

    LCFF has created three statistically distinct groups of districts in California with respect to funding adequacy. With dramatic cost-of-living differences around the state, a flat statewide school funding formula, combined with a flat statewide cut-off determining an economically disadvantaged student, has created three groupings. There are districts in the four very high-cost counties, districts in the ten very low cost counties — and the average-cost districts in between.

    When you break the absenteeism graphs down into three separate series — high, average and low cost counties — you see three distinctly different curves. As before, I should note, the best-fit relationship is weak for all of them — though stronger for the high-cost counties.

    In the four very high-cost counties, instead of an arc, the curve bends dramatically skyward. Low-disadvantage districts, along with basic-aids and high parcel-tax districts, cluster in the 3-8% absenteeism range, while state-funding-dependent districts struggle at 16% and higher.

    In the ten very low-cost counties, the arc mimics that of the average cost counties — except that it is uniformly lower, almost flat, and crests at under 7% at the 60% disadvantage point. Across all levels of disadvantage, the low-cost counties have been able to do a better job of reducing absenteeism.

    Is this what a move towards funding adequacy might look like?

    Seeing lower absenteeism also raises the next question: are the schools in low-cost counties using their cost advantage only to get bottoms on seats, rather than make academic progress?

    The low-cost counties in California are Fresno, Kern, Madera, Tehama, Merced, Siskiyou, Trinity, Modoc, Tulare, Imperial. Their median income is 80% or less of the statewide average from state income tax records, their 40th percentile cost to rent a two-bedroom apartment is under $1,200 compared with a statewide average of $2000 per HUD.

    Plotting all 600 California districts covered by Stanford CEPA’s Socio-economic index, then looking at the trendlines for the low-cost counties compared with average-cost counties shows equivalent performance in percentage of children performing at or above grade level on the CAASPPs: in language arts, mathematics and science (spring 2019, to match absenteeism data).

    Since the argument for having a flat statewide school funding formula was that the less economically vibrant, often rural, counties would suffer from cost-indexed funding, this suggests that their 20%+ cost advantage means that — adjusted for socio-economic status — school districts there are performing equivalently to those in average cost areas of the state.

    And that the low-cost counties are not merely getting kids into the classroom, but making up for any geographic disadvantage those children suffer (e.g., fewer museums and local cultural institutions).

    At the other end of the spectrum, the high-cost counties have median incomes 70% above the state average and the HUD 40th percentile study shows $2,800-$3,200/month rent. The trendline for schools’ academic performance in those counties is across-the-board worse than in equivalent socio-economic status districts in the low- and average-cost counties. Note that this means that, although high-cost districts do an equivalent job of ‘kids in seats’ in their areas of low disadvantage, they nonetheless do not get academic results as good as equivalent districts elsewhere. And results in their high-absenteeism, high-disadvantage districts are far worse than elsewhere in the state.

    Because high-cost counties have a fewer low-disadvantage districts proportionately, merely doing county-wide averages is extremely misleading.

    Overall, the data suggest that the LCFF as currently structured was (pre-pandemic) successfully leveling up the low-cost counties with lower economic vibrancy than elsewhere in the state.

    It also suggests that LCFF is doing a good job of leveling down the high-cost counties, across the board in terms of results, and in their high-disadvantage districts in terms of absenteeism. Restricting $1.2 billion of educational property tax revenue from flowing to those counties’ state-funded districts has demonstrated how underfunding contributes to absenteeism and poor academic results.

    Methodology:

    Downloading 2018-19 ed-data.org data into Excel I plotted the difference between ADA and census day enrollment for every 1000+ student district against its unduplicated percentage. I then ‘cleaned’ the data to the extent of consolidating the four elementary-high consolidated admin districts, and removed the 29 districts with ADA under 800, which had absenteeism of 33-100%, way in excess of their reported chronic absenteeism (often districts with odd charters). Neither simple correlation, nor any of the more sophisticated trendline functions shows a significant relationship — the highest R-squareds generally come from polynomial level 2 results. Plotting chronic absenteeism shows a similar arc with an apex at 75% (rather than general absenteeism, which the bill mandates). The CAASPP data also come from the website, while the SES data is downloadable on the CEPA website.

    When LCFF was first proposed, it was indexed for local costs. Rural counties cried that this was unfair, due to their difficulties attracting staff, smaller schools, and other disadvantages. As a result, California not only instituted a flat statewide funding formula, based solely on disadvantage, but also a flat statewide income boundary to determine that disadvantage. A family of four making $50,000 in the four highest cost counties would, according to HUD, spend over 70% of their income for a 40th percentile two-bedroom apartment, and have just $15,000 a year left over for food, clothing, etc., yet their children would not qualify their school for a supplemental grant. An equivalent family, making $48,000 a year in the ten lowest cost counties would spend less than 30% of their income for a HUD 40th percentile two-bedroom apartment, with $33,000 for food, clothing, etc. — and their children would qualify their school for a supplemental grant.

  3. MB 4 months ago4 months ago

    The idea that schools need incentives to be motivated to get students to school is insulting at best and deliberately disingenuous at worst. The state accountability formula includes attendance as a variable already. Schools used to be funded in this manner and changing the funding formula at the time did nothing to "reform education." Check out the mission of the Pacific Research institute with words like "free market" , "personal responsibility," " limited government" … Read More

    The idea that schools need incentives to be motivated to get students to school is insulting at best and deliberately disingenuous at worst. The state accountability formula includes attendance as a variable already. Schools used to be funded in this manner and changing the funding formula at the time did nothing to “reform education.”

    Check out the mission of the Pacific Research institute with words like “free market” , “personal responsibility,” ” limited government” and you get where this author is coming from. More anti-public education rhetoric.

  4. Elizabeth A Vitanza 4 months ago4 months ago

    This opinion piece truly misses the mark. Tying attendance to funding, as only 6 states do, does nothing to address the root causes of absenteeism, and punishes schools that prioritize public health. There are equity-based assessment policies, grading practices, and teaching practices that would do far more to help keep students in school and making progress. I support SB 830.

  5. Stephanie Tarzia 4 months ago4 months ago

    ADA funding is not a method for getting kids to school or improving absenteeism. In looking at statistics ADA does not improve attendance for chronic absentee students. The pandemic has taught us that kids need to stay home when sick and LEAs need funding to educate students when they miss school. More funding is needed to educate absent students not less. Punitive action for absenteeism will not resolve this issue. Understanding the reasons in … Read More

    ADA funding is not a method for getting kids to school or improving absenteeism. In looking at statistics ADA does not improve attendance for chronic absentee students. The pandemic has taught us that kids need to stay home when sick and LEAs need funding to educate students when they miss school. More funding is needed to educate absent students not less. Punitive action for absenteeism will not resolve this issue. Understanding the reasons in each local area to specifically target absenteeism is a more logical approach than utilizing ADA. Not to mention the measures for ADA as to what constitutes attendance…is it being present at the end of school, is it present at the start of school?

    Many LEAs and parents don’t understand the financial implications for their schools when scheduling medical appointments that can take away important dollars from districts. Enrollment is a much better method than ADA. If checks and balances is the reason for opposition, ADA is not a tool for checks and balances.

  6. Hannah MacLaren 4 months ago4 months ago

    This article seems to reflect the opinions of critics whom I would guess have spent little to no time in inner-city schools nor have talked with any "chronically absent" students. In my work as an external school coach in LAUSD schools, I found that absenteeism is a challenging problem a number of students face. At that time, there was a ruling that students who had not made it to their school in a timely manner would … Read More

    This article seems to reflect the opinions of critics whom I would guess have spent little to no time in inner-city schools nor have talked with any “chronically absent” students. In my work as an external school coach in LAUSD schools, I found that absenteeism is a challenging problem a number of students face.

    At that time, there was a ruling that students who had not made it to their school in a timely manner would frequently be “arrested,” and the parents would have to go to wherever the student was held and pay a $250 fine. And why were they late? Well, frequently the bus they were waiting for just shot by that stop, leaving the student; or they were responsible for getting siblings to school, and then scrambling to get to theirs before first bell rang – frequently missing that time and returning home. Saving their parent(s) the $250 fine.

    We got the school police and the school administration to grant a leave for the first period, making second period being the cutoff. Hello? There are a number of other challenges absent students face: lack of sleep from police helicopters banging over head in the late night hours, and, regretfully on and on. There were a few, very few, I should note, who bailed out of school, disconnected for one reason or another. Students coming mid-year either from youth detention facilities or tossed out of local charter schools just before critical standardized testing times so scores would not be affected.

    This is to suggest that there are ways to respond to attendance issues that take into account the realities of inner-city lives, and possibly create reflective responses/solutions.

    Snark solves no problems.

  7. Todd Maddison 4 months ago4 months ago

    Wow. I really, really try to avoid calling something stupid in Internet commentary. It's just a recipe for a finger pointing match. In this case, however, there really is not a better word for it. How could anyone in their right mind think that removing all incentive from the public schools to figure out ways to get more kids to attend is somehow a good plan? Lance is correct in all respects. Be very last thing we … Read More

    Wow.

    I really, really try to avoid calling something stupid in Internet commentary. It’s just a recipe for a finger pointing match.

    In this case, however, there really is not a better word for it.

    How could anyone in their right mind think that removing all incentive from the public schools to figure out ways to get more kids to attend is somehow a good plan?

    Lance is correct in all respects. Be very last thing we need to do is to allow our school systems to collect money for kids they aren’t actually educating.

    Sorry, but just got to say it again, that is downright stupid.

  8. Fred 4 months ago4 months ago

    Have you been to a school in a poor neighborhood? Staff are working their tails off. When students have the things they need, they will succeed. They don’t need barriers to funding, they need more.

    Use your knowledge to guide how funding is used, instead of how to restrict it.