Full Circle Fund’s Rx for schools
Members of the Full Circle Fund, a Bay Area philanthropy made up of socially active leaders and entrepreneurs, has joined the call for giving school districts more autonomy and taxing authority.
Granting local voters the power to pass a limited surcharge of the property tax rate is one policy recommendation of “EACH: A Vision for California’s Future.” The 11-page policy platform is the product of nine months of work by the 60-member Education Circle, one of four study groups within the Full Circle Fund.
A property surcharge would directly challenge of the limits imposed by Proposition 13. It also could create equity problems – and likely lead to a lawsuit – since rich communities would more readily pass such a measure. So the Education Circle also urges establishing a state matching fund as an incentive for low-wealth communities to raise revenue. The platform also urges bringing up California’s level of funding to the “national norm” and includes a useful graph that compares states’ per student spending relative to its teachers’ salaries.
Both revenue proposals were endorsed two years ago by the Governor’s Committee on Education Excellence but never got much attention when Gov. Schwarzenegger ignored the committee’s findings. Jeff Camp, the chair of the Education Circle and a former Microsoft executive, was a member of the Excellence Committee.
Integrated approach to reform
The platform offers an integrated plan focusing on needs of students, investment in teachers and principals, new directions for schools and opportunities for the larger community to improve public education.
“We can no longer afford to wait, or to proceed incrementally,” the document says.
Among its recommendations:
- Continue developing and integrating the state’s data systems, CALPADS and CALTIDES;
- Create individualized student assessments to track students’ progress toward long-term goals (the state is proposing something along these lines in its Race to the Top application);
- Fund pilot programs in online learning to take advantage of student-based learning technologies;
- Create an innovation fund to support the career-long development of teachers;
- Redefine teachers’ pay with incentives and compensation practices that support and encourage excellence in teaching;
- Give local districts more flexibility and authority by setting a hard date to replace the voluminous state education code with streamlined, useful regulations.
Education Circle members bring expertise in many fields – non-profit management, finance, technology and education. Several members have been teachers. Members include Stephen Dodson, former president of San Francisco-based Parnassus Investments; Nathan Fisher, an executive of McKesson Corp.; Karen Alden, a media consultant; and Merrill Vargo, CEO of the education consulting group Pivot Learning Partners.
Now, amid harsh budgets, is the time to seriously discuss policies that the Education Circle proposes. Camp said that the group had counted on a constitutional convention to delve into school governance and finance issues that the Legislature has ignored, but the petition drive, led by the Bay Area Council, to put a convention on the ballot dissolved last week. Camp said that members will pursue opportunities to present the platform to gubernatorial candidates and other organizations.