California’s public schools need more transparency
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California’s public schools need more transparency

In California, poorly performing public schools are particularly likely to avoid transparency and accountability.

Dissatisfied with the slow response of public schools to the COVID-19 pandemic, California families rushed away from the public school system and opted for alternative education such as charter schools and homeschooling.

Family dissatisfaction with public schools is one of the main motivations for two proposed voting initiatives that advocates of education choices are working to participate in state-wide voting this November. These proposals allow parents to create an education savings account and spend their children’s kindergarten-to-high school education on qualified education such as private school tutors, tutors, books and transportation. would do so.

The first proposal, the Freedom of Education Initiative, would create an account with a $ 13,000 fund initially available to low-income children for the first two years of the program. It will eventually increase access to all California children. Another voting initiative, the Educational Freedom Act, makes $ 14,000 accounts readily available to California families on request.

Anti-school choice advocates argue that spending public money on private school tuition and educational services leads to a lack of transparency and accountability. “Private schools, even if they accept public funds, are not subject to the same educational standards as public schools,” said Heather Weaver, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, during Education Week.

However, public schools are not as accountable as one might think.

In many cases, the Byzantine nature of the state’s education system means that few taxpayers, as well as specialists, can know how public schools are spending money on public education. In fact, until recently, many states only needed to report average spending per student in each school district, not how education costs were actually spent.

That changed in 2015 when President Barack Obama signed the All Student Success Act (ESSA). This increased the transparency of education spending by requiring school districts to provide school-level spending data. Still, 13 states, including California, were not in compliance with federal law as of May 2021. As a result, school-level data for nearly 40% of children enrolled in public schools from kindergarten to high school across the country have not yet been reported.

In California, poorly performing public schools are particularly likely to avoid transparency and accountability. In 2019, the California Department of Education published a list of 781 schools with poor grades for the first time in four years. These schools suffer from problems such as low graduation rates, absenteeism, and poor student performance in evaluation.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic undermined California’s accountability system as the US Department of Education abandoned the state’s 2020 assessment requirements. In fact, California’s standardized test scores will be publicly reported and will be applied to the accountability index in 2022 for the first time in three years.

For example, Westlake Middle School in the Unified School District of Auckland performed poorly in the 2017, 2018, and 2019 grades. School test scores have fallen over three years, with school scores in 2019 falling more than 162 points below the math standard and 121 points below the English arts standard. At the same time, more than one-third of the students were chronically absent from the school year, and nearly 20% were suspended at least once. However, the school district does not need or need to report whether it has succeeded in improving the scores on these tests until later this year.

Despite allegations that the proposed voting initiative reduces transparency, California public schools are often unable to provide financial and educational accountability. As Michael Mcshane, in an EdChoice study, pointed out, “Schools have been poor grades for decades and can suffer from functionally zero results.”

After all, public schools in California do not have the strongest means of accountability. Parents should be able to enroll their children in the school of their choice. The voting initiative for both Educational Savings Accounts, in McShane’s words, would be “representing millions of parents as accountables to the school.”

The proposed 2022 initiatives could be an opportunity for taxpayers to demand more accountability from schools and for parents to have more control over their children’s education.

A version of this column first appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News.