California: School District Funding Does NOT Equal Performance

In today’s Sacramento Bee, the Pacific Research Institute’s Vicky Murray, argues that in California more funding does not lead to better outcomes for students.

Statewide, school districts where a majority of students are not proficient outnumber those where a majority are proficient by about 3 to 1. In fact, average student proficiency rates in English and math at the state’s bottom 20 revenue districts, which average $8,900 in funding per student, are actually higher than proficiency rates at the top 20 revenue districts, which average more than $19,200 in funding per student.

State and local per-student funding should also be higher in districts that enroll children whose educational needs make them more expensive to educate, such as low-income students or English learners. Yet on average, state and local funding actually decreases as the proportions of these children increase.

Such funding disparities can translate into hundreds of thousands of dollars less for classrooms with the greatest need for additional teachers, books and intensive instruction programs.

California could solve these funding inequalities and make the process more transparent by moving to a student-based budgeting system where the funding follows the child down to the school level. California should create one simple funding mechanism that distributes both categorical and revenue-limit funding based on a “student-based budgeting” financing system that would include one base allocation equalized across the state and additional weighted funds for students with additional needs including special education, poverty, and English learners. This process would make school finance in California simpler, more equitable, and bring significant cost savings by reducing categorical administration costs and central office costs and redirecting some of this savings to increase per-pupil funding allocations in California. In addition, California should allow the funding to follow students down to the school-level and allow principals discretion over school budgets.

Lisa Snell is the director of education and child welfare at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.