Brownley to push for finance reformBrown, too, backs weighted student concept
As bleak as it looks for school funding this year, the stars may actually be aligning for school funding reform.
Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, is betting that this year the Legislature will pass a more equitable and simpler method for funding K-12 schools. And she and Gov. Jerry Brown agree, at least in principle, on what it would look like: a uniform per-student funding formula with extra dollars for low-income children and English learners.
Brownley is sponsoring an open-ended bill, AB 18; the first hearing on it will be March 23.
Current funding formulas are opaque and unfair. Funding varies by districts, based in part on funding levels set 30 years ago for reasons no longer defensible. Disparities are compounded by differences districts receive in categorical funding – money allotted for specific programs. “Our current system is complicated, convoluted, and not designed toward meeting our goal of ending the achievement gap,” Brownley told me last week.
A weighted student formula, created by blending together many categorical programs and then allocating extra dollars based on student needs, would be cleaner and clearer. Brown endorsed the idea as part of his campaign platform. But, of course, it’s the details that matter: Should regional costs of living be considered? Should low-income students be given 10 percent or 20 percent more? How do you ensure that the extra money is spent on those children?
It will be a few years before a new formula takes effect, even if there is agreement on it. Brownley and others agree that districts wouldn’t receive any less than they currently get now. New money will be needed in order for the formula to work.
Two years ago, Brownley, a Democrat from Santa Monica, thought she was making progress toward the goal, when the Legislature (with rare large bipartisan majorities) passed her bill, setting up a broadly based study group on finance reform. It would have based its work on conclusions of Getting Down To Facts, a series of Stanford-coordinated studies from 2007, and recommendations in 2008 of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Advisory Committee on Education Excellence, which endorsed the weighted student concept. But Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed Brownley’s bill and, in one of his more baffling veto messages, dismissed the study group as creating “the appearance of activity without actually translating to achievement.” This was odd, considering it was Schwarzenegger who made it clear he didn’t want anything to do with financing reform that could cost the state more money.
So this year, Brownley is not resurrecting the idea of a working group and instead is cutting to the chase, with hopes that she’ll have a bill passed and signed by the end of the year. She said she planned to confer with Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and State Board of Education President Michael Kirst, who, with two others, created his own version of a weighted student formula.