Resources matter when it comes to educating California’s 6.2 million K-12 students. Governor Brown’s school finance reform proposal, the “Local Control Funding Formula” (LCFF), focuses attention on that fact and would take the important step of directing dollars to students who need additional support to achieve the state’s academic standards — English learners, students from low-income families, and foster youth. The Governor’s proposal also would boost overall state spending per student, a measure on which California neared the bottom of the nation a couple of years ago, and could raise it to the same level as the rest of the US by the time the LCFF is fully implemented.
According to newly released data from the National Education Association, California school spending lags that in the rest of the nation by $2,500 per student. This means that in order to reach the same level of spending per student as the rest of the US, California would need to spend an additional $15.3 billion in the current (2012-13) budget year alone. The Governor’s proposed 2013-14 budget calls for implementing the Local Control Funding Formula by raising the annual school funding level by a similar amount — $15.5 billion — over approximately seven years, plus annual cost-of-living adjustments. Even though it would not bring California’s spending per student up to the level of the rest of the US for several years, the additional funding the Governor proposes would provide a significant boost to state spending per student and is worthy of support.
Would the funding targets in the LCFF ensure that the state is providing the necessary resources to give every California student access to a quality education? Or does the state need to establish more ambitious funding goals to reach funding adequacy? Legislators have raised these questions at recent budget hearings, but broad agreement about what constitutes an adequate funding level to achieve the state’s rigorous performance goals remains elusive. One assemblymember suggested that California should not be satisfied with reaching the same level of spending per student as the rest of the US, but instead should aspire to rank in the top 10 states in the nation. To make it into the top 10, California would need to spend an additional $41.1 billion in 2012-13 — a funding level increase of more than two-thirds — which would require the state to raise significant new revenues. Such high aspirations for California spending per student are laudable and deserve our support. Yet at the same time, concerns that the state is not doing enough to establish sufficient funding levels should not be a reason to oppose a significant increase in state support for schools.
While the Governor’s proposal provides a boost to school funding, the LCFF does raise some concerns, including the need to make sure that additional dollars actually go to support the students for whom they are intended. Stay tuned to California Budget Bites for further analysis of how to strengthen accountability under the LCFF and ensure that restructuring the state’s school finance system improves education for all California students.
— Jonathan Kaplan