In his final budget as governor, Jerry Brown once again accelerated California’s spending on K-12 education. Gov. Brown’s 2018-2019 proposed budget would increase per-pupil funding levels by about $4,600 per student over 2011-12 levels. Total K-14 spending, which includes community colleges, would hit an all-time high of $78.3 billion in 2018-19, an increase of 66 percent over the last seven years.
The 2018-2019 education proposal includes $3 billion to fully fund Gov. Brown’s signature education reform, the Local Control Funding Formula, which aims to provide more resources for disadvantaged students and help districts improve outcomes for high-needs students who are English language learners, in foster care, or low-income.
The Local Control Funding Formula gives school districts the funding without strings attached, offering flexibility to make decisions about how best to spend these resources on students. “Local empowerment, that’s what it’s all about,” Gov. Brown said at the release of his budget. “The age of micromanagement from Washington or Sacramento is over as far as I am concerned.”
Gov. Brown advocated for the Local Control Funding Formula and the state legislature passed it in 2013. While it is too early to make judgments, these new funding allocations, targeted to the state’s neediest students, must generate academic dividends and close achievement gaps.
In 2017, the third year of the state’s new testing system, dubbed the California Smarter Balanced Assessments, less than half, 48 percent, of students tested proficient in English language arts. In fact, only 31 percent of African Americans and 37 percent of Latino students were proficient in English language arts in 2016-17. In contrast, 64 percent of white students and 76 percent of Asian students were proficient. For English Learners, just 12 percent were at grade level. A similar pattern holds for math scores. Those scores need to rise and the achievement gaps need to shrink for Gov. Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula to be a long-term success.
As School Choice Week, a national awareness effort with more than 2,000 events planned in California, continues, Gov. Brown and the legislature can learn from the success stories of the state’s charter schools. California now has the most charter schools and the largest number of charter school students in the country, with over 1,200 charter schools serving more than 600,000 students.
In Southern California, charter schools have had higher high school graduation rates and their students have higher admittance rates to state universities than public schools.
Los Angeles Unified School District has nearly 300 charter schools now and the California Charter School Association found that the district’s “disadvantaged student subgroups” are “closer to achieving proficiency if they attend charter schools.”
In fact, LAUSD charter schools are delivering the results Gov. Brown is hoping to generate via the Local Control Funding Formula. The California Charter School Association reported, “In 2015-16 African American charter students scored 28 scale score points higher than their TPS [traditional public school] peers, and Latino charter students scored 22 scale score points higher than traditional public school Latino students. Moreover, low-income charter students scored 19 scale score points closer to grade level standards than their traditional school peers. All of these differences are statistically significant.”
Gov. Brown has made efforts to make California’s schools more accountable and to give local schools more control over the money they receive. Now, control and choice need to be given to parents — so they can determine how education funding for their children is spent and choose the schools that are best for their kids.
This column originally ran in The Orange County Register.