For years, the mantra among local school officials throughout the state has been to advocate for more local control and less iron-fist demands for how to spend public money.
And finally, we have exactly that situation. Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed a smart, long-overdue method of funding our local schools. Known as the Local Control Funding Formula, Brown wants to give schools money based on need, on factors such as numbers of English-language learners and students in the free or reduced-cost lunch program.
The road to greater academic college achievement, higher employment rates, and a vibrant, bursting economy begins right here and right now. I support the governor’s proposal because it is the best solution proposed so far for attempting to address the serious achievement gaps in our schools.
The proposal would create a program where districts with high numbers of English-language learners would receive more money, or concentration grants, per student. Districts with large amounts of poorer children would receive even larger concentration grants. Schools in Santa Barbara, Carpinteria , Ventura , Oxnard, Santa Paula, and Fillmore, where in many cases more than half of the population are English-Language learners and economically disadvantaged, would benefit greatly.
In addition, the governor’s budget eliminates most categorical funding – meaning it eliminates dictating to the districts what programs they must spend the money on. Instead, the estimated $7 billion in categorical money would be placed in the hands of the district, and it would be up to the board members to determine how the money is spent.
The additional money to the students who need it most will not come at the expense of the wealthier school districts. All districts will receive more money next year, thanks to the passage of Prop. 30 and several other budget actions taken by the governor and legislature. On a statewide basis, funding levels are projected to grow by approximately $2,700 per-student over the first five years of Formula implementation.
And no basic aid district will receive less in state support than it does today. Basic aid districts would continue to retain local property tax revenues and continue to see their funding rise as property tax revenues increase, according to the state Department of Finance.
I like the governor’s plan, but I would even go a step further. I am an advocate for sending the money directly to the schools most in need. While I am confident that most districts would do what is right, I believe that sending the funding directly to schools would eliminate most political pressures that often fall on school boards when voting on education matters. It would also ensure that all schools with a majority English-language learner or economically disadvantaged population would see the same rise in funding as other schools with similar situations, even if that school happens to be in a district that doesn’t meet the requirements for the concentration grant.
It’s time to acknowledge and accept the fact that children who are learning English in the public school system, and children of less economic means, have it tougher academically than the children who begin public school with a wealth of resources both in and out of the classroom. Schools need the resources to properly educate those students to rise to the levels of many of their peers.
Schools should be our great equalizer. Unfortunately, the public school system is not an equal-opportunity place to learn. Neighborhoods with higher property values and property taxes create more money for the schools in those districts. Parental involvement and fundraising tends to be higher in those districts. It is our responsibility as residents to help each child succeed at the highest level. The Local Control Funding Formula is a major step in that direction.
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Assemblymember Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, is Chair of the Higher Education Committee and member of the Education Committee.