Weighted Student Funding for California

Three Reasons Governor Brown’s School Funding Plan is Better than the Status Quo and Three Big Ideas to Make the Plan Even Better

The current California education funding system lacks transparency and is extremely difficult for parents, policymakers and taxpayers to understand. In addition, under the current system, districts receive notably different per-pupil funding rates; affluent schools often receive more funding per pupil than less affluent ones.

Governor Jerry Brown proposed a new school finance plan for California in the 2013–2014 budget, called “Local Control Funding Formula.” It increases funding to school districts with a larger number of disadvantaged students by financially weighting those students according to need, simplifies current byzantine school finance regulations and gives school districts more autonomy over finances.

But while Governor Brown’s plan distributes money to school districts with larger numbers of disadvantaged students, it does not do enough to ensure that the money gets to these students’ schools or to the students themselves—aside from threatening audits or sanctions if disadvantaged students fail to meet performance targets. Brown’s plan would be greatly improved in this respect by integrating the following recommendations:

  • Distribute all the extra weighted funding for at-risk and English Language Learner students on a per pupil basis to the particular schools in which those students enroll, funneling funding for disadvantaged students directly to them, rather than to the district.
  • Authorize school principals, rather than districts, to spend the funds for their students as they see fit, according to their students’ needs.
  • Implement a modern school-level financial reporting system, ensuring that extra funding reaches the disadvantaged student and that school district finance allocations are transparent to the public.

If California adopted these recommendations, it would be following in the footsteps of Colorado, which recently passed comprehensive school finance reform legislation along precisely these lines. Moreover, California could easily incorporate such reforms in its school finance plan by adapting the current language in the charter school sections of Assembly bill 88 and Senate bill 69, which are legislative alternatives to Governor Brown’s budget proposal.

Charter school student funding is weighted per pupil to customize to each student’s needs, and individual schools are held accountable for how they spend those dollars. For true accountability and equity, every school in California should have to follow these charter-school reporting requirements.

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