PPIC adds new analytical resources to debate over weighted formula’

Researchers from the Public Policy Institute of California on Monday added new resources for schools - as well as for taxpayers - for evaluating Gov. Jerry Brown's sweeping plan for restructuring how public schools are funded.

The report, which comes in the wake of a district-by-district funding estimate made last week by the governor's Department of Finance, also provides public access to a modeling tool allowing simulations of different funding formulas and assumptions.

The idea, said lead author Jon Sonstelie - a professor of economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara - isn't just to give district administrators another option for analyzing the impacts of the governor's plan - but to provoke a more widespread debate.

It's important for every district to think about how this would affect them relative to the status quo," Sonstelie said. "But there's also an important issue here for all of us - which is to think about how, in general, this will affect how revenue is allocated in the California school finance system. That's more than just how it will affect me.

"It seems to be that there's been less attention on the general impact on the distribution of resources and whether or not we like that," he explained. "As opposed to the attention paid to winners and losers."

The governor's revised funding formula, which has emerged as one of the key deal points in the upcoming budget debate, would provide districts with a base, per-pupil grant with additional support based on the number of economically disadvantaged students and English learners. Brown's original restructuring plan was released in January but underwent significant changes for release as part of his revised May budget plan.

The PPIC report notes that while there remains significant revenue variations among districts under the new proposal, Brown's revised plan would tend to moderate the magnitude of differences.

The researchers noted that under the original proposal, 39.9 percent of students attended districts with revenue gains between 30 and 50 percent. Under the revised proposal, 60.1 percent of students attend such districts.

Also, high school districts received relatively smaller revenue increases than other districts under the January plan. Brown's latest proposal provides grade-level weights that have lowered those differences.

Another change, PPIC noted, is that the May plan would distribute additional revenue more evenly among districts of the same type. The original proposal channeled proportionally more revenue to districts with higher percentages of disadvantaged students. While this is still true with the revised proposal, the differences are smaller among districts with different levels of student disadvantage, the authors reported.

Sonstelie said the governor's plan includes many positive aspects - perhaps most importantly, it would replace a funding system that has become "opaque" with one that would be far more easy to follow. He noted, too, that Brown's plan would provide schools more flexibility in spending - something that's also badly needed.

"The question about whether the weights are right or not - that for me is difficult to answer," he said. "I do think that more revenue needs to go to districts that have lots of disadvantaged students. I think they do need more help - how much more, that's a difficult question for me. It's the most important question, and it is also the most difficult."

As part of the Monday release are links to the PPIC School Finance Model - which contains revenue and demographic data for all 1,663 local educational agencies allowing users to create customized finance analyses.

One file is the model itself; it includes large data files that will need to be downloaded. There's also an instruction manual explaining how to use the model and describing data and methods used in its construction.

There are also two additional files related to the governor's latest weighted pupil funding formula.

To learn more visit: http://bit.ly/KPzT7y

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