Brown’s weighted school formula challenged by English learner advocates

SEE PUBLIC COMMENTS BELOW

The governor's plan for restructuring school funding drew concerns from an unanticipated corner Monday - advocates of English learners who would seemingly benefit most from the administration's proposed weighted funding formula.

But because Gov. Jerry Brown's plan would also eliminate existing spending restrictions on several key categorical programs - especially on the $1 billion Economic Impact Aid program - some defenders of English learner students said further protections might be needed.

Tara Kini, staff attorney at Public Advocates, said that the governor's new school financing plan is an important step forward" for the state's English learners because it provides state support more closely tied to student needs - but there are two major concerns.

"First, the proposal fails to address adequacy," she said, arguing that the program's base funding is not aligned to any analysis describing what it actually costs to provide an education to the average student - let alone an Englisher learner or other disadvantaged student.

"Second, the proposal fails to ensure that the additional weighted funds are used to educate English learners and low-income students - there's simply no requirement," she said.

The comments came during a special select committee hearing convened by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D- Los Angeles, to examine the governor's weighted spending proposal with regard to English learners.

Padilla noted that there are more than 1.4 million English learners in California - which is nearly one quarter of the student population. Currently, only about 10 percent ever reach English proficiency based on state development testing and only about 56 percent graduate from high school.

Brown's plan calls for simplifying the existing maze of programs and formulas that provide public schools with close to $50 billion annually. He would eliminate funding for many categorical, or mandated, programs in favor of block grants..

The issue raised by Public Advocates echos concerns that others - including the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst - have raised about ensuring the additional money gets spent on disadvantaged students.

The LAO's Rachel Ehlers told the panel Monday that while her office welcomes much of what the governor has proposed, they are concerned about the ability of the existing accountability system to ensure districts spend their money as intended under the governor's plan.

The LAO has recommended that the Legislature preserve some assurances that districts dedicate additional resources toward addressing the needs of their disadvantaged students.

Two Republican lawmakers that attended Monday's hearing also urged caution.

"This program doesn't seem to be well thought out," said Sen. Bill Emerson of Riverside. "And now we just lay it on the table for introduction in a budget process."

Sen. Jean Fuller of Bakersfield said the governor's plan may need more defined goals when it comes to spending the weighted money on disadvantaged students. "To give money to a program with little goals is to court disaster," she said. "It will just go on and on forever and the kids lose."

PUBLIC COMMENTS

It is truly amazing that the California Legislature continues to assume that public school districts in the State violate federal and state laws requiring equal access to a free appropriate education to all of our pupils regardless of their special needs, the language in which they are proficient or the color of their skin. In every district I have worked for, the Governing Board's mission includes all stakeholders and District staffs focus on meeting the needs of all stakeholders. The current assessment system in the State segregate pupils by ethnicity (sub groups) to track growth/progress. That these subgroups do not meet the progress levels within the unrealistic federal timelines are not necessarily a reflection on the tremendous work being done by instructional personnel and Districts throughout the State in the 6 to 7 hours per day that the District have the pupils.

If the State would give Districts all the money they are currently owed the way they give money to charter schools and then get out of the way, pupil achievement would most likely improve.

Robert Wolfe, Asst. Supt., Business Services, Menifee Union SD

Today's article by Tom Chorneau brings up good points about the fear people have with the Governor's restructuring plan: Will the extra money get to the kids who need it? All the Governor has to do is look to Twin Rivers (in his back yard) or LAUSD (if he wants to get out of town). We are piloting a weighted student funding model, developed by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Pivot Learning Partners, that ensures the students who need the extra money, get the extra services. Using Strategic School Funding for Results (SSFR) we created spreadsheet formulas in our Targeted Revenue Model (TRM) that then provide extra funds on a per pupil basis to schools with the various populations. The schools then determine how to spend those funds using their Planning, Budgeting and Allocation of Resources (PBAR) tool to make investments in their kids that produce measurable results. This process closely matches the way school districts should allocate funds in the proposal by Julia Brownley contained in AB 18. The system works to provide the necessary spending protections. I encourage you to find out more at: http://www.schoolfundingforresults.org/

Rob Ball, Associate Superintendent, Business Support Services

Twin Rivers Unified School District

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