December 2021


Education in California

According to the World Population Review, California ranks 37th in educational achievement in  the 50 states. Such a ranking might make a person think that the state doesn’t spend any money on education. Wrong! Per pupil spending in California is $21,555. California schools are also receiving $13.6 Billion from the federal government to cushion impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2013 Governor Jerry Brown and the Legislature changed public school financing with the stated goal of “closing the achievement gap separating poor and English-learner students from more privileged children.” 

The Local Control Funding Formula gave local school officials a great deal more leeway by eliminating most “categorical aids” that required funds to be spent for specific purposes. Of course, in typical political fashion, the formula also gave school districts specific grants to be spent on improving education of children on the wrong side of the gap.  

Governor Brown was sure that local school officials could be trusted to spend the money wisely with virtually no state oversight. He believed that local voters and parents would monitor spending through local implementation plans. A truly wonderful idea. Emphasis on Idea. 

Various groups have complained that implementation plans are indecipherable and school districts often divert money meant to improve outcomes of at-risk-kids into other purposes. A huge loophole has allowed Local Control Funding Formula money left unspent in one fiscal year to be carried into the next year and spent without strings.   

Not surprisingly, battles have been waged how the money is spent. The battle has been district by district and sometimes in the courts. In 2019 State Auditor Elaine Howe issued a report that sharply criticized the lack of oversight. “We are particularly concerned that the state does not explicitly require districts to spend their supplemental and concentration funds on the intended student groups or to track their spending of those funds.”

The legislature did close the loophole on unspent funds in 2021 but there should be some clue as to what billions of extra dollars have produced. Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) is a prestigious consortium of education scholars from five major universities. This is their statement.

“As researchers who have long studied the implementation of LCFF, we started with the view…that LCFF has advanced equity both in terms of funding progressivity…and improved outcomes for historically underserved student groups. But despite this progress, California continues to lag behind the nation as a whole when it comes to educational outcomes, and many student groups – particularly Black and Latinx students, English learners, students from

low-income families and students with disabilities- continue to experience wide and troubling opportunity and achievement gaps.”

PACE also noted that schools with the highest concentrations of at-risk-kids tend to have the least experienced and least capable teachers.  PACE doesn’t mention that union seniority rules are the prime reason for this situation.


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