Education conference highlights need for funding, better data

The “Birth to Twelfth Grade Water Cooler Conference: Building a Shared California for All Students” brought together experts from across the educational spectrum to support greater alignment across systems. Early childhood education and K-12 stakeholders from throughout California gathered in Sacramento on Oct. 14–15 to discuss and begin work on a collective agenda that breaks down barriers across systems and recognizes the critical role both early childhood education and K-12 play in the development of the whole child. Panels throughout the event focused on a variety of issues, but two themes that echoed throughout were the need for more funding and better data.

Full and Fair Funding SM

Roberta Furger, senior writer and director of storytelling at the Learning Policy Institute, spoke about the current state of education funding in California. While acknowledging that test scores and other measures of achievement aren’t where they should be — especially for underserved student groups — she said research is showing that the Local Control Funding Formula is headed in the right direction. “What the research does tell us is that more money, more equitably spent, has had a positive impact on achievement and graduation rates,” she said. “It’s also important to add that continued improvement is not guaranteed. To sustain and deepen those gains, we must sustain and deepen those investments over time.”

Research from Policy Analysis for California Education estimates that $26 billion more than the 2016–17 state education budget is required to ensure every student has the opportunity to meet state standards and to graduate. And the funding need is no less for early education. “Our failure to invest in our youngest learners has a deep and lasting impact on student success in K-12,” Furger said.

While the need for more funding is clear, there is less certainty about how to generate that money. Presenters encouraged advocates to contact their representatives and push for a legislative solution for more school funding. They also discussed potential funding measures on the November 2020 ballot.

Potential funding sources

Manuel Buenrostro, education policy analyst at CSBA, and Edgar Zazueta, senior director of policy and governmental relations at the Association of California School Administrators, discussed the Full and Fair Funding: Public School Progress, Prosperity, and Accountability Act of 2020, which would raise $15 billion annually for K-12 schools and community colleges. It would do so by increasing taxes on corporate income over $1 million by up to 5 percent and increasing personal income taxes on taxable income over $1 million by up to 2 percent and by up to 3 percent on taxable income over $2 million. “The research is clear in showing that whenever we give more money to districts, outcomes improve,” said Buenrostro.

An additional potential ballot measure in 2020 is the California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act, which would generate more than $11 billion per year by reforming commercial property taxes under Proposition 13. About $4.5 billion would go toK-12 schools and community colleges, with the remainder going to cities and counties for things like libraries, parks, health centers and other social service and health care organizations

How should increased funding be used?

Conference panelists pointed to the need for better data and better alignment of systems in order to serve California’s students overall, and especially in providing equitable resources. The “State of Systems” panelists discussed California’s switch in focus in recent years from a system that emphasized test scores and compliance to one where test scores are only one of a number of measures that indicate student success on the California School Dashboard, and a focus on differentiated assistance and continuous improvement. Representatives from the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence and the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association addressed the collaborative work the CCEE, county superintendents and county offices of education have done in the last three years. Sujie Shin, deputy executive director at the CCEE, identified three main pieces to the work: identifying resources — including expertise, tools and programs — and how to get those resources to districts; networking and connecting teams across the state to discuss and share best practices; and identifying gaps in the system where resources are needed.

CCESA Executive Director Peter Birdsall said that counties are now embracing continuous improvement practices and have trained staff throughout the state on how to support and implement the practice in districts. With more funding, programs could be expanded, and money could be invested in more efficient data systems and training stakeholders to make better use of that data. The end goal is to have accurate data that guides where money and resources are most needed, resulting in greater student achievement. The needs of districts statewide are great and varied, and include a lack of fully qualified and credentialed teachers, school counselors, librarians, nurses and support implementing Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, just to name a few.

But all of these things take time. “True, sustainable, transformational change doesn’t come in big jumps,” said the CCEE’s Shin. “Instead it is best seen in those places that have shown slow, incremental improvement over time. That’s how we should think of success.”