Switch to weighted funding

Brown to dismantle financing system
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Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing to overhaul how K-12 schools are funded, starting with next year’s budget. The move to a “weighted pupil funding” formula would vastly simplify the current complicated and inequitable funding system and shift responsibility for most spending decisions to the local level. It also holds the promise of providing extra money for low-income students and English learners.

At the same time, it would wipe out dozens of protected or “categorical” programs, which would all be thrown into one pot and reallocated on a per-student basis.

Weighted student funding is the system that finance reformers, including State Board of Education President Michael Kirst, have advocated for years and that Brown himself called for in his campaign platform. Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, chair of the Assembly Education Committee, has been working on  a version of it for a year and has made passage of AB 18 her priority for this year.

(click twice to enlarge)

(click twice to enlarge)

But until it appeared on page 140 of his budget summary on Thursday (see wording at left), Brown had given no sign that he was ready to move forward with it.

The administration has not released details yet, so it’s too soon to say who would be “winners” and “losers.” But to ensure that districts are held financially harmless, the budget summary said the system would be phased in over five years. It also implied that few categoricals would be spared consolidation, including those with powerful backers, like the class-size reduction program favored by the California Teachers Association and Economic Impact Aid, which has diverted millions of dollars to Los Angeles Unified. An exception to consolidation would be federally funded special education and foster care.

Kirst said that the details would be negotiated with the Legislature, but that Brown would defend the concept and principles behind a new system. In an April 2008 brief, Kirst, together with former state Education Secretary Alan Bersin and then law professor and now state Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu, outlined the weighted pupil system that Brown is proposing.

A critical detail will be the percent of funding increase or “weight” that will be given to low-income students and English learners. Peter Birdsall, executive director of the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association, who attended a short budget briefing Thursday, said that additional weight would be given to those students attending schools with heavy concentrations of disadvantaged students.

“It’s encouraging that the governor is taking on school finance reform and moving the system toward a more fair and coherent weighted student formula system that directly takes into account the needs of low income students and English learners,” said John Affeldt, managing attorney at the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates Inc. “We’ll have to see the details to know the extent to which his proposal will truly benefit the neediest students.

Wiping out mandates

Along with providing more flexibility with spending, Brown is proposing to eliminate half of the mandates imposed on K-12 schools and community colleges. (The budget summary does not list them.) And he wants to create a $200 million block grant to encourage districts to continue to follow the “optional” mandates that he is not dropping. There is a catch, however. Once districts accept the money, they must agree to follow the mandates covered by the block grant, which will include “core programs, including school and county office fiscal accountability reporting,” and “sensitive notification and school safety functions like pupil health screenings, immunization records, AIDS prevention, School Accountability Report Cards, and criminal background checks.”

Mandates are a sore subject with local officials, since they have had to fight for reimbursement and argue that they’ve been only partially compensated for the costs. Brown acknowledges this in the budget summary: “Many existing mandates fail to serve a compelling purpose. The mandates determination process takes years. Reimbursement costs are very often higher than anticipated and can vary greatly district by district. Further, the reimbursement process rewards inefficiency.”

Birdsall praised the shift of power from Sacramento to local districts. So did Bob Blattner, principal with Blattner & Associates, an education consulting firm based in Sacramento. For too long the state’s been laying down railroad track for districts to follow and then blaming them for where they end up,” he said. “Brown is acknowledging that decisions are often best made locally.”

But Brown is not letting districts completely off on their own. He is promising to couple flexibility with “a system of accountability measures that will be the basis for evaluating and rewarding school performance under this finance model.”

Along with the current state standardized tests, measures will include “locally developed assessments and qualitative measures of schools.” That’s basically what Brown promised when he vetoed Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s SB 547 last fall. That bill would have created new state accountability measures to deemphasize a narrow attention to standardized math and reading tests.

Kirst said that Brown has not yet made up his mind on the locally based measures. But the result, after shifting power from Sacramento to local districts, will be a “much thinner Ed Code,” he said.

13 Comments

  1. Very interesting!  This could change my thinking about school boards.  I will be watching this news closely.

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  2. John, it’s a mystery to me how a guy with your feel for the ed. budget, and your thoroughness in explaining it, would not acknowledge the problem with CA’s $2 billion price tag for the Common Core Standards.  You talk about the decimation of many protected and categorical programs, but apparently you expect that Common Core will be fully funded.  How is that?  Where will the $2 billion come from?  For that matter, where will the nation get the $30 billion (or $210 billion, depending on your source) for nationwide implementation?  Is there some reason there is no discussion of this?  Where is that money supposed to come from?

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  3.  
    Weighted student formula  has — or should have — two important goals.  One is deregulation:  districts badly need to be released from the costly burden of over-regulation.   Allocating money to districts via a weighted student formula is a way to respond to this issue and this makes it a great first step.  But real finance reform needs to support districts to follow through and fund schools based on student needs.   In the Strategic School Funding for Results (SSFR) approach being developed by Pivot Learning Partners and the American Institutes for Research in partnership with both LAUSD and Twin Rivers Unified, reform of how resources are allocated to schools is also connected with efforts both to make budgets more transparent and to shift financial decision making to schools as well.  As state and local policymakers move forward with the weighted student formula idea, as they should, they would do well to leverage and learn from this effort to create a “proof of concept” of this new policy approach.

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  4. Ummm…PIVOT. Right. I think I have a copy of their slideshow to a Bay Area business group around here somewhere. Ahhh..here it is.
     
    Let’s see…just a couple of bullet points.
     
    o create teacher labor markets within districts
    o regulations governing credentialing and collective bargaining constrain creation of labor markets for teacher talent
    o resist regulatory approaches to achieve even worthy goals; remember that deregulation is the key to efficiency -in the public sector as in the private sector
     
    Yep. Beware those “worthy goals.” And it appears that PIVOT didn’t get the memo about just how efficient “markets,” and “deregulation” were in bringing our entire economy to its knees. That all worked out so well in the  ”private” banking and finance sectors it just won’t stand until we can bring the same “efficiencies” to the public schools.
     
    (I don’t think PIVOT knew a teachers’ union person was in the audience, but “the shadow knows.”)
     
    The actual “efficiency” being discussed was cost containment. In California, that is, number 46 of the 50 states in per pupil funding. If we get any more “efficient” we’ll just have to shut the public schools down. Which, I’m certain, is the underlying rationale unless sufficient dollars can be bled from the system by the private sector.
     
    And, while we’re on the subject of dollars. Until a reasonable (and #46 is NOT reasonable) revenue stream can be directed to education the best of plans, and I’m not sure Brown’s ideas are the “best of plans,” is just rearranging the deck chairs on the sinking school system spread sheet.
     
    Local control sounds great right up to the point where you come in conflict with Serrano v. Priest. There are not sufficient dollars in the system to truly “benefit the neediest students” unless you go to the wealthy areas and redistribute the dollars throughout the system. That’s why we ended up with basic aid and Revenue Limit. Going into districts and taking dollars from the kids of wealthy contributors  to distribute to little minority children is sure to raise a hue and cry. Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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  5. From your post February 22 in response to the Ed Source study:
    “A few TOP-Ed readers, citing the Race-to-the-Top-driven decision to adopt Common Core, have raised the issue of cost. They have pointed to an EdSource study last year, estimating the possible price tag to California of adoption at $1.6 billion.
    That figure, based on the state’s past experience, assumes curriculum frameworks and instructional materials costs of about $800 million and $765 million in teacher training. It was made before the State Board  adopted Common Core and made detailed comparisons between the standards.”
     
     
    Not included in these figures are the infrastructure costs associated with online assessments. The PARCC and Smarter folks testified in an SBE hearing that an average school district will need 5 full time IT professionals year round to support the data processing, networking and hardware requirements. Simultaneous test taking will require significant enhancements to broadband services at individual school sites. Then there are access issues for schools not currently served by broadband networks. And of course, there are the actual computer stations required for each student during testing. Any one of those factors is significant money when multiplied by our 6,000,000 K12 students in 1000 school districts.
     
    Doug’s question bears a response: Who is paying for all of this?
     
     

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  6. The amazing thing to me is that when it comes to NCLB (essentially civil rights law) and RTTT (things that are used punitively against teachers and their unions), we have no interest in granting flexibility in how funding is used or how it is secured, but when it comes to state funding for things that attempt to benefit students directly, we feel like any mandates are nothing but restrictions.
    Jerry is being disingenuous when he says he believes local democracy is more influential and appropriate. Its true that it is, but thats only relevant if local entities were able to secure their own funding (that of course brings about a whole other problem) but of course they’re not.  The idea behind block grants is twofold (IMHO): to hide the fact that many ‘suggested uses’ are in fact unfunded, and second to divert blame for that away from Sacramento. Giving districts money to do 10 things, while only providing sufficient resources to do 2 of them, and then claiming that their ‘decision’ not to do the other 8 was their own, is ridiculous. Well, that or politics.
    While it is true that there are many existing funding mechanisms that could be made more efficient, taking away programs that were intended to help students is not going to help students. It will, however, help taxpayers, and that is obviously the only thing that really matters. Talk about not putting students first..

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  7. Thanks for jogging my memory, Bea. But you conveniently failed to include the next two paragraphs from my Feb. 22 post:

    But the study states this would be a worst-case scenario, assuming there would be little similarity between Common Core and California state standards, Mary Perry, Deputy Director of EdSource, told me. To the contrary, the English language arts standards are similar, potentially cutting the cost estimate in half, Perry said.

    In addition, the EdSource study looks backward at previous state adoptions and not forward at the cost benefits of aligning with Common Core and taking advantage of the curriculum frameworks, interim assessments and online materials that will be developed by the two states’ consortia.

    It’s beyond question that the costs of adopting Common Core will be substantial. But it’s also important to keep in mind several factors:

    • Districts are already getting Title II money for professional development from the federal government – dollars that can now be channeled to preparation for Common Core.
    • The materials adoption process for Common Core will be substantially different and could be substantially less expensive than the full-blown process the state has used in the past because of two factors: the availability of digital materials and the creation of a nationwide market for textbooks. We may find that the interim adoption materials process that CDE will undertake will be the model for the future, with far more district-driven choices and less cost.
    • The same savings could occur with professional development, as more teachers go online to share their expertise and their lesson plans with colleagues in other states.
    • It’s not as if districts no longer have to train teachers and buy textbooks; these are recurring expenses, Common Core or not;
    • We shall see if SMARTER-Balanced makes its target date of 2014-15 for computer-based assessments. I wouldn’t be surprised if  the first tests are not adaptive, as promised. A delay would not diminish the benefit of switching to Common Core standards — it just may take a while longer.

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  8. I don’t see digital materials saving money.
     
    Sure, they cost less to *distribute.* But, they don’t cost less to make. In fact, if you’re taking advantage of the digital platform, they cost much more to develop, because you want to give kids alternate paths through the materials, additional tagging and indexing, more interactive elements, etc.
     
    Second, you need IT infrastructure. What is the typical computer lab situation in schools these days? In our school, we have a lab of 30 computers which is shared by about 250 students, plus a handful of computers within classrooms – enough for a small activity or for the teacher, not enough for a class lesson – let alone an exam. You need staff to administer and maintain these computers, you need networking and power outlets added to each classroom, and you need to replace them every 4 years or so. And, of course, you need a high speed data pipe to the school in the first place, which is missing in some large percentage of rural schools.
     
    And finally, what publishers love about digital content is that it gives them much more control over their customers. If the school buys 100 textbooks, they can keep them forever. Maybe longer than might be educationally wonderful, but the school can decide when to incur the next expenditure. You can bet that digital content will be licensed rather than sold, with mandatory changes in materials at some publisher-determined interval, and with the school paying an annual fee per student, at a price pretty close to what they’d get for textbooks. They won’t be passing the savings in paper or shipping costs on to districts.
     
     

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  9. I think it was Stanford that was doing a study about how districts reallocated money for the Tier III categoricals, figuring out how the money was spent differently. I look forward to seeing their conclusions.
     
    In our local district, I would say the flexibility was positive overall compared to what would have happened without the flex. One thing in particular that happened was that the Community Day School money was used for a program similar in intent and focus but worked more as a pull-out rather than a totally separate school. This allowed the resources for that program to reach more kids – especially kids that were at-risk – and gave the various adults a lot more flexibility in meeting individual student needs.
     
    Of course, many of the categorical programs were effectively eliminated. That certainly was sad, but perhaps the best of a set of lousy choices.

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  10. Seems like the proposal will create a bigger disincentive to redesignate English Language learners.

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