CSBA at the table in talks on Brown’s weighted student funding formula

CSBA joined dozens of other education officials invited to the table this month to provide input on a new funding model for schools based on a weighted student formula.

Following up his unsuccessful attempt to impose a weighted student formula in last year’s budget, Gov. Jerry Brown is intent on including a proposal in his 2013-14 budget plan that has greater buy-in from the education community.

“California’s system of allocating resources to school districts, county offices of education and charter schools has grown to be too complex for even the most seasoned school supporter to understand let alone explain. Its effectiveness is questionable and not always defensible,” said CSBA Assistant Executive Director for Governmental Relations Dennis Meyers, who represented CSBA along with Senior Policy and Programs Director Teri Burns.

An influential 2008 report, “Getting Beyond the Facts: Reforming California School Finance,” called for a new school funding system “that is more rational, more equitable, and, we believe, politically feasible. At its core, our proposal aims to link district revenue to student needs and regional costs while ensuring that all districts are held harmless at current funding levels.”

Using that report—by longtime Brown education advisers Michael Kirst, Alan Bersin and Goodwin Liu—as a jumping-off point, CSBA urged the governor to consider several core issues as the basis of a new funding model:

  1. Adequacy: Provide enough resources to allow students to meet state standards.
  2. Cost differentiation: Recognize that costs vary depending on student need and other specific district factors.
  3. Transparency: Funding formulas should be straightforward and transparent. Formulas should adjust for key cost differences without trying to adjust for every difference between districts.
  4. Equity: Allocate the same per-pupil revenue to all districts with the same cost factors.
  5. Local discretion: Provide local governing board discretion in how to allocate resources to allow communities to address local priorities.

CSBA’s plan for a 21st century school funding model makes the following points in any overhaul of the current system:

  • School districts and charter schools should receive a base grant for every pupil, adjusted to the costs of education students in prekindergarten through grade 3 and grades 4-6, 7-8 and 9-12, and reflecting five or six regional cost variations. The base grant amount should at a minimum be adequate for the average child to meet California’s adopted academic standards.
  • A supplemental grant, at a set percentage of the base grant amount, should be allocated to school districts and charter schools for each student who is either an English learner or who qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches. The formula should account for high school students who do not apply for assistance with lunch costs even though they qualify. Unlike some proposals, CSBA’s model does not anticipate additional funds for high concentrations of low-income and EL students, because marginal costs from those concentrations would be expected to decrease under a weighted formula.
  • With the exception of special education, all current categorical programs should be folded into the new funding model. K-3 class size reduction, career technical education, and home-to-school transportation would be treated differently. For example, when calculating the grade-level differentiation, funding from the current K-3 class-size-reduction program would be targeted to PreK-3 and CTE funds would be targeted to grades 9-12. Transportation costs would be addressed in a transportation add-on that would reflect actual program costs as reported for the 2007-08 fiscal year.
  • Necessary small schools—those that receive extra funding because they serve a very small number of students—need special consideration.
  • Statutes relating to programs included in the new formula will be repealed.
  • County offices of education could be included in a new formula similar to the funding plans for school districts and charter schools. They could receive a per-ADA base grant to cover the services that they provide to districts and one or more supplemental grants to cover special high costs students, such as those students who are incarcerated.
  • Governing boards should be provided full authority to allocate resources based on local needs and priorities.

Implementation likely to take years

Most districts are anxious to retain their current funding levels while the transition to a weighted student formula takes place. CSBA is arguing for a hold-harmless provision that would fund all local educational agencies at their 2007-08 levels—before the last few years of state cuts occurred.

“Grant levels should be based on a funding-level goal that addresses adequacy and need, and not merely on the current level of funding,” Meyers said.

As new money above the current school year levels becomes available to LEAs, it should be prioritized to go first to pay off deferrals, fund cost-of-living adjustments and growth, and reduce deficits, and only then to fund the implementation of a weighted student formula. Such a schedule to eliminate deferrals and deficits will eventually allow all LEAs to get back to pre-recession funding levels, Meyers said.

The State Board is soliciting input about the weighted student formula; send emails with “WSF” in the subject line to sbe@cde.ca.gov.

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