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Brown's New Education Proposal Could Seal His Legacy

Our education columnist unearths the fundamental issues surrounding the governor's proposal to change how schools are funded.

Governor Brown is an old man. Incredibly, he’s older than I am.

The Governor is at a point in his life where he is relatively immune to some of the usual political apprehensions. He isn’t calculating his chances for the White House. And, though I hear he’s a good Catholic, I doubt the College of Cardinals is vetting him for the Papacy.

My guess is that Mr. Brown is mostly focused on his legacy.

Which is why, I think, the Governor had the nerve, this month, to take on one of the most contentious issues in education. He proposes to change the way schools are funded in California.

The Governor’s changes would be carried out via something called the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), another acronym to remember if you are going to impress at your next cocktail party.

There will be more money to dole out to districts thanks to Proposition 30. The way things are now, most of that money would go to the wealthier districts in the state. High poverty districts get around $600 per student less than rich districts presently.

Brown wants to change that. He’d like to take the new infusion of cash and give most of it to districts who have three kinds of students:  low income kids, foster youth, and students learning English.

You’d think that was a no-brainer but you would be wrong.

The wealthier districts, of course, quickly cried foul.

They don’t oppose the idea of helping disadvantaged students, of course.

It’s just that they don’t think they should be the ones to sacrifice. The whole state is underfunded, they say. They point to a recent study that shows that California is 49th in educational spending.  

First get state spending up to acceptable levels, and then we’ll consider redistributing money to poor districts, sayeth the wealthy folks.

Poor districts will just squander the money anyway, according to the suburbanites (that’s who we are talking about here, of course). Since teachers unions help elect the school boards who will stop the districts from simply spending the additional funds on teacher salaries?

The extra money wouldn’t do any good, they argue. School success is a matter of parental involvement and money won’t change that. We should cure poverty first before we take money from deserving (rich) school districts.

There is also the question of how much additional money would be fair.

How much additional cash should be sent to McClymonds High School compared to Foothill High School in Pleasanton? My assumption is that the former school has more low-income students than the latter.

The Governor says that state funding will rise by about $337/student next year. (There is no way that LCFF would go into effect as soon as 2013-14 but let’s just pretend that it will.)

Would the citizens of California countenance a formula that granted McClymonds $500/student, while giving Foothill $174/student? How about $400 for McClymonds vs. $274 for Foothill (roughly 60/40)?

What should McClymonds buy with the money? Computers? New textbooks? Maybe they could lure some veteran teachers away from Foothill and thus, theoretically, improve the teaching in Oakland. It’s well known that poor schools generally have a younger, less experienced staff.

I should add that the Governor also wants to reduce state control over most of the money its sends to districts. What was once “categorical” (you can only spend this money on widgets) will now be available for whatever purpose the various school boards determine to be worthy.

It’s interesting how many fundamental issues can be unearthed when you start talking about money.

Jerry Heverly is an English teacher at San Leandro High School.

You can read more essays like this in the archives of Entirely Secondary.

Rob Rich February 26, 2013 at 08:10 PM
I don't much care for meetings, but whenever I go to a PTA meeting (or Dads Club, or SLED) I come away with the understanding that there is a lot more that we can do to improve our schools. David, you raise a legitimate issue when you note that some schools with comparatively high per pupil expenditures perform relatively poorly. Of course, lots of high revenue schools perform very well. This part of the equation doesn't seem to intrigue you as much, but it is equally as important. If we are going to honestly evaluate this, rather than using it as a vehicle for a larger debate over competing political theories, then we need to better understand why various schools perform as they do. Are there steps that higher revenue/high performing schools are taking that would be helpful if lower revenue/lower performing schools adopted them? Are there challenges that lower performing schools face that can be mitigated with additional funding?
Leah Hall February 26, 2013 at 09:10 PM
Maybe we could all learn something from each other? Perhaps being intrigued across the board is one of the hallmarks of leadership. May we all discard the "hospice mentality" and work together to save our schools. Rob is correct, there is plenty of work to do. David raises a good point (even though it's cloaked in his political agenda) accountability is non-negotiable. May we rise above the "hospice mentality" and work together to save our schools.
David February 26, 2013 at 09:28 PM
Rob, I'm not interested in higher revenue schools that are better than average because, shockingly enough, they tend to be in districts with the attributes pointed out above. What I'm interested in are schools that do well in districts without the attributes pointed to above, i.e. schools that educate socioeconomic strata that in aggregate do quite poorly. These schools are often: 1) Charter schools 2) Catholic schools 3) Private schools 4) not "traditional" public schools. As I've posted before, there are these schools *literally* down the street from failing public schools, educating kids from the same backgrounds. It wouldn't take much to walk down the street and try to figure out what SLUSD could do. As for cloaking in a political agenda, Brown's agenda is apolitical? Get off your horse, rodeo clown.
David February 26, 2013 at 09:30 PM
I mean, seriously, people around here behave like there are these mysterious schools off in never-never land where kids actually learn something, graduate, and continue to do well. They're *right* around the corner, people. And I'm the "blind" one?
Leah Hall February 26, 2013 at 11:59 PM
Speaking on blind spots and no brainers, thought some would be interested in checking out Great Oakland Public Schools Leadership Center website. Go Oakland is a charitable organization that provides education, advocacy, and leadership within the Oakland community so that all Oakland students have the opportunity to attend quality public schools. The GO Leadership Center supports a coalition of Oakland families, students, teachers, principals, community, and civic leaders united around a positive, student-oriented vision for public education in Oakland. http://www.goleadershipcenter.org/impact/

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