Great things are happening in California public schools, but it is still unclear whether they are improving the education of nearly 6 million children.
Big things are obviously happening in the California public school system these days and they are sure to affect not only the lives of nearly 6 million K-12 students, but the economic and social well-being as well. of the state for decades to come.
Unfortunately, however, it is very difficult to know how they intertwine and whether the long term effects will be positive or negative.
For starters, schools are inundated with billions of new dollars, largely coming from a bumper crop of sales and income taxes, as well as another big injection of federal money for the recovery in pandemic case.
The 2021-2022 state budget allocates $ 123.9 billion in state and local funds to K-12 education. That translates to a record $ 21,555 per student, roughly double what it was a decade ago, and now in the top ranks of the states.
Conversely, however, many school districts, especially those in urban areas, are struggling financially due to declining enrollment. Long-term decline in enrollment caused by declining birth and immigration rates is compounded by the effects of the pandemic. Some parents refuse to send their children to school because of COVID-19 fears and others because they oppose compulsory vaccination.
Enrollment has fallen by more than 160,000 this year, and the state’s finance ministry projects a drop of 700,000 students from pre-pandemic levels by 2031.
While school district revenues are largely determined by enrollment, the state froze those formulas when the pandemic hit and schools were closed last year. He has protected districts from catastrophic short-term revenue losses, and school officials are lobbying Gov. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers to protect them from long-term declines by changing enrollment-based funding.
Speaking of which, for nearly a decade, a large chunk of state school aid has been allocated not just on enrollment, but on the basis of demographics. Districts with a substantial number of poor students learning English have received additional grants per student in the hope that the money will close the “achievement gap” between them and their more privileged classmates. About 60% of K-12 students are considered “high need”.
Former Governor Jerry Brown defended the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) but refused to allow the state to control whether the additional billions of dollars were spent on educating targeted children and whether it actually improved their educational outcomes. He said he trusted local school officials to do the right thing.
In the absence of state control, the effectiveness of the LCFF has never been evaluated – until now. This month, the Public Policy Institute of California produced a comprehensive snapshot, filled with data and analysis. The bottom line is that just over half of the extra money is spent on the schools whose students have generated it, and so far it seems to have had a marginally positive impact.
New state budget doubles LCFF’s on official presumption it works, but PPIC study says effectiveness depends on focusing and spending its funds wisely on the kids who need it most help. It also indicates that if we move away from enrollment-based funding as local officials want it to be, strengthening the LCFF to really close the achievement gap must be a factor.
Finally, Newsom recently signed off on Assembly Bill 599, which breathes new life into a landmark 2004 court case that ordered local districts to ensure their poorly performing schools are in good repair and have up-to-date teaching materials and properly certified teachers. By defining them, it establishes a list of 2,000 schools that must be inspected for compliance.
Will more money, more insight, and more oversight increase California’s disgracefully poor academic performance compared to other states – even its big rival, Texas? Our future depends on it.