Jerry Brown’s Next Trick in California: Weighted School Funding

By Andrew Ujifusa — December 26, 2012 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In my story on the state fiscal outlook for K-12 in 2013, I mentioned that even with the passage of Proposition 30 in California, the school funding outlook in the Golden State wouldn’t instantly go from rancid to rosy. But that’s not the only conundrum facing Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and state lawmakers in the next year. A nice article by Kevin Yamamura in the Sacramento Bee on Dec. 26 highlights the class divide between relatively rich and poor districts that could become a controversial topic next year.

In simple terms, Brown wants to create a weighted student-funding formula that would provide more cash to districts that have an outsized share of “disadvantaged” students, which in practical terms means those coming from relatively poor households or those with English-language-learner status. The funding “weight” given to districts would jump significantly for those districts that have more than 50 percent of their students falling into the “disadvantaged” category. Brown actually came out with two versions of his weighted funding formula in 2012, and in the second one, while the weight given to disadvantaged students compared with non-disadvantaged students actually declined somewhat, the same formula gave additional weight for students in grades 9-12, as well as lesser weight to those students in grades 7-8 and K-3. (Students in grades 4-6 received no additional funding weight in Brown’s proposal.)

The Public Policy Institute of California ran a model of both Brown’s original and revised weighted funding proposals. As you can see, the revised proposal actually gave less additional money per student to poorer districts than his original plan, but unified districts consisting of 80 to 100 percent of students who were disadvantaged would get an additional $3,520 per student on average, compared with the $1,800 in additional money in per-student funds than those districts consisting of only 0 to 20 percent disadvantaged students. In practical terms, that also meant that in Brown’s revised proposal, 60 percent of students attended districts that would see revenue gains of 30 to 50 percent.

“The original proposal channeled proportionally more revenue to districts with high percentages of disadvantaged students. This is still true with the revised proposal, but the differences are smaller among districts with different levels of student disadvantage,” the authors wrote in the PPIC paper.

With the assumption that Brown once again pushes for weighted funding in 2013, the proposal has the backing of folks like Michael Kirst, as Yamamura notes in his story—not surprisingly, since Kirst (the state school board’s president) essentially came up with the idea in a paper four years ago. But what do skeptics say?

For those districts that won’t see the kind of weighted funding boost as their poorer cousins, they are trying to put California’s situation in a national context, not a rich vs. poor one. California, says one superintendent in Yamamura’s story whose district would get less per-student state funding than a poorer neighboring district. That district still funds its schools below the national average (again, on a per-student basis).

“The concern out there is that there’s a problem with winners and losers,” Conejo Valley Unified School District Superintendent Jeffrey L. Baarstad told Yamamura. “Everyone has been a loser the last five years. Even though someone like me absolutely agrees with putting money behind (low-income) kids, at the same time I want to rebuild my district, too.”

In theory, at least, wealthier districts contain a higher number of people subject to the new higher tax rates on wealthier residents approved under Proposition 30. Those folks might also be disappointed to learn that their new tax rates, whether they voted for them or not, may benefit other public schools at the expense of the ones in their neighborhoods.

Weighted funding has been tried by an increasing number of large school districts, including in Boston, Denver, and Baltimore, as my colleague Christina Samuels has outlined.

But the idea also has national critics, including Eric Hanushek, who characterized his skepticism of weighted funding in Education Next magazine, essentially, by calling it overly optimistic: “The added dollars from the weighted student funding seldom empower them [schools] to make choices that improve the quality of teachers. As a result, the benefit of additional funding in a world where the quality of teachers is unrelated to the salary of individual teachers is murky at best.”

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP