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California gets ‘F’ for effort in fair educational funding (but it’s old data)

Craig Clough | June 8, 2015



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raising-hands-in-classroomThe state of California faired poorly in a new report from the Education Law Center that grades states on how fair their educational funding system is in regard to providing extra funding for low-income districts.

However, the report is based on data from 2012, before the state enacted the groundbreaking Local Control Funding Formula and before Gov. Jerry Brown targeted billions more for education, so in many ways it reveals why the state needed to make a bigger commitment to serving its low-income students with better funding.

The report used four factors in its rankings, including funding level (average per-pupil spendingl), funding distribution (how the state factors in funding for low-income districts), effort (how much is spent on education compared to its gross domestic product) and coverage (the proportion students in public schools versus private schools).

The report, titled “Is School Funding Fair?”, gave California a “C” for its funding distribution and an “F” for effort. Using those metrics it ranks 41st in funding and 36th in coverage. 

The states that fared the best in the report — South Dakota, Delaware, Minnesota, and New Jersey — “provide their highest-poverty districts, on average, with between 30% and 38% more funding per student than their lowest-poverty districts. In contrast, the four most regressive states provide significantly less funding to their highest-poverty districts. In Vermont, Wyoming, and North Dakota, high-poverty districts receive only about 80 cents for every dollar in low-poverty districts, while in Nevada high-poverty districts receive a startling 48 cents to the dollar,” the report states. 

The report also explained how the four factors impact each other: “Funding Level, Funding Distribution, Effort, and Coverage — are important in their own right. But the complexity of each state’s school finance system is best understood by considering the interaction of all four factors. For example, a finance system may be progressive, but also very low spending with low fiscal effort, like Utah. Wyoming and Vermont exert high fiscal effort garnering relatively high spending levels, but distribute that funding regressively.”

California along with Florida and Tennessee, were the three states the report called out as  scoring “quite poorly in all measures except Funding Distribution.”

Despite the poor ranking in the report, it is not an accurate reflection of the current state of affairs in California. For example, the per-pupil spending in 2012 was $8,218, but if Brown’s proposed budget passes, per-pupil spending would be near $13,000. The data is also before the passing of the Local Control Funding Formula in 2013, which targets districts with high levels of low-income students with extra funds, which would significantly impact how the state’s fairness was equated in the Education Law Center report.

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