Tuesday, August 19, 2014

California's New School Funding Formula Is Progressive, But Is It Sufficient?

At the surface level, California's new funding formula is impressive in its structure.  It sets a base per pupil grant for all students, adds 20 percent to that base for each disadvantaged student a school enrolls, and allots a 50 percent bump per pupil for schools enrolling more than 55 percent high needs students.  In other words, it ensures that all schools receive some supplemental resources for every disadvantaged student, but focuses the most resources on high poverty schools, where research shows that concentrated poverty depresses academic outcomes.  Implicit in this framework is the notion that low-poverty schools do not need significant funds to support low-income students.  Hence, the basic 20 percent bump is below the additional funding that most research says high needs students need.  Conversely, high poverty schools need an exponential bump, which this formula aims toward.  This type of formula is generally consistent with the formula that I have argued Congress should adopt for federal funds (see here for more).  If a critique of California's formula is to be had, it may be in regard to the base amount itself.

A formula can be progressive, but still insufficient.  Tennessee is an excellent example.  It has progressively funded its schools for several years, but funds them at one of the lowest levels in the nation.  Thus, almost all schools are underfunded; some are just less underfunded than others.  In 2014, the Education Law Center's funding fairness report card found that California ranked 42nd in the nation in terms of its funding level.  Sufficiency, of course, must account for cost of living, etc., and requires far more sophisticated analysis than I can offer here, but California seems to recognize it has a problem on that score as well and is taking steps to address it.  Its total budget for the funding formula is supposed to grow by $4.7 billion in 2014-15.  I look forward to new reports analyzing whether that is enough.


For more on California schools' transition to this new formula and the formula itself, see here and here.


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