Calif. K-12 Funding, Governance Still Troubled, Report Says

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Five years after a blue-ribbon research report urged an overhaul of California's school governance and finance systems, a follow-up finds that the organizational ailments highlighted in 2007 remain, and the financial picture has gotten worse.

The original "Getting Down to Facts" report, led by Stanford University's Institute for Research on Education Policy and Practice, featured more than 20 in-depth studies from academics at Stanford, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Southern California, and other universities across the country.

It criticized the state's K-12 system for disorganization and disappointing student-achievement levels and stated that much stronger financial support for schools could make a huge difference in terms of both governance and results. ("California Schooling is 'Broken'", March 19, 2007.)

But the new report by the Policy Analysis for California Education, or PACE, a research group affiliated with Stanford, Berkeley, and USC, finds plenty of room for improvement. (PACE also contributed to the 2007 report.)

Although "Getting Down to Facts: Five Years Later" finds a few hopeful signs, such as the launch of a student longitudinal-data system and discussions about new ways to fund the neediest students, it also says the drop in state education funding and the disorganized fashion in which California runs its schools have not changed since the original report.

" 'Regret' may be the wrong word, ... but there was a real prospect that California would make progress on long-standing education problems," said David N. Plank, the executive director of PACE.

Funding Crucial

But without additional money to rebuild the shattered school financing system, what was envisioned as a groundbreaking package of proposals has lost its luster for policymakers and others, said Gary Ravani, the president of the Early Childhood/K-12 Council of the California Teachers Federation, an American Federation of Teachers affiliate representing 120,000 school employees.

"Every time they mentioned these significant, self-styled, draconian reform measures, someone else would bring up the additional resources some of the reports called for," Mr. Ravani said. "Nobody wanted to talk about that. So the report was put away."


A 2007 report led by a Stanford University research institute called for big changes to California’s way of overseeing, regulating, and funding public schools. A follow-up report from another policy-research group finds many of the same issues remain.

"Getting Down to Facts" (2007)

School Finance System
2007: "California's school finance system is unnecessarily complex and is not rationally aligned to support the accountability and performance standards imposed on local educators."
School Governance
2007: "Ultimately, accountability and responsibility are not well aligned because schools and districts are held accountable for student learning but they are not given responsibility and authority to allocate resources."
Teachers and Principals
2007: "Teachers are central to improving student outcomes. Unfortunately, California's teacher policies are not currently coordinated and designed to optimize the teacher workforce."
Teacher and Student Data
2007: "Most importantly, California's current system does not follow students and teachers over time and does not link them together and to the programs and resources that they experience so that we can evaluate effectiveness."
Per-Pupil Spending, 2007:

"Getting Down to Facts, Five Years Later" (2012)

School Finance System
2012: "California's school finance system is in disrepair to the point that it no longer meets the needs of the state or its students."
School Governance
2012: "An unintended consequence of the California budget crisis has been some simplification in policies related to state-level funding and governance."
Teachers and Principals
2012: "Schools still have low levels of adults per student, and there has been little progress at the state level in policies related to administrator training or to the hiring, evaluation, compensation, or retention of teachers. ... Within California, a number of individual districts may provide important examples of new ways to evaluate and compensate teachers."
Teacher and Student Data
2012: "The completion of CALPADS allows the state to track students over time, through their educational careers. It makes it possible to track students who move from one school district to another, which is necessary for the accurate calculation of graduation and dropout rates, and also to link teachers to the students they teach."
Per-Pupil Spending, 2012:

The original "Getting Down to Facts" was commissioned by the governor's Advisory Committee on Education Excellence, the speaker of the California Assembly, the state schools superintendent, and others. It was also supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which both provide grant support for Education Week.

The report said the way California schools were funded was irrational, failed to address student inequities, and did not support the concurrent demands on educators. And it said the state's scattered, uncoordinated data on teachers and students made California "incapable of effective system learning and continuous improvement."

"The report was clear that we were underinvesting in education by billions of dollars. The report also said, you shouldn't do reform without the revenue, and you shouldn't do the revenue without the reform," said Jack O'Connell, a former state superintendent. He was the state schools chief when first report was released and is the chief education officer at School Innovations and Advocacy, an consulting firm based in El Dorado Hills, Calif.

Three technical studies in "Getting Down to Facts" recommended a boost in education funding, with the recommended increases ranging from $1.7 billion to $1.5 trillion.

But those grand plans for more money are long gone, vaporized by the national recession and California's perennial budget crisis. In January, Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, estimated the budget deficit at $9 billion for the rest of fiscal 2012 and for fiscal 2013, although the California Legislative Analyst's Office has since warned of revenue projections that could make the deficit even worse.

In the follow-up review, Susanna Loeb, a professor of education at Stanford, wrote, "Our initial optimism was clearly unwarranted."

Funding is a major reason. PACE reported that California's per-student funding has dropped by $522 in five years, from $8,235 in the 2007-08 school year to $7,713 in 2011-12. (The latter figure includes money from the one-time federal Education Jobs Fund.) Since 2007, the state's K-12 public schools have endured $18 billion in cuts and another $10 billion in deferred funding.

"You could build a case that we are almost $40 billion behind where we should be" if further deficiencies are included, said Dean Vogel, the president of the 325,000-member California Teachers Association, a National Education Association affiliate.

But the funding woes have also exposed the inflexibility and inadequacy of the system to the point where it "no longer meets the needs of its state or its students" and has no strategic vision, writes Heather Rose, an associate professor at the University of California, Davis, who also contributed to "Getting Down to Facts" in 2007.

PACE's authors also decry the fact that a tangled school governance structure means that many officials do not know who is accountable for different aspects of K-12 schools, even as stability and cooperation emerged between top positions.

Progress and Skepticism

A few developments qualify as what PACE calls hopeful signs. One of the most prominent is the completion of a longitudinal student-data system known as the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, or CALPADS. Slated to be fully functional this year, CALPADS has encountered serious problems getting off the ground. ("California Data System Threatened by State Budget Squeeze", June 15, 2011.)

In addition, the state's office of the secretary of education was eliminated by Mr. Brown, who was elected in 2010, helping to streamline governance, PACE noted.

In the new report, PACE argues for a weighted student-funding formula with designated resources that follow the neediest students. It notes some legislative support for such a move.

But the CTF's Mr. Ravani said the real hope for school funding lies in passage of a November ballot initiative for a tax increase of $7 billion that would go in part to schools, and which is being championed by Mr. Brown and teachers' unions.

"Funding is capacity. And capacity is the ability to deliver what kids need in the classroom," he said.

Related Blog

One group meeting PACE's call for more district control and authority is the California Office to Reform Education, or CORE, begun in 2010. It is a coalition of eight large districts, including Los Angeles, Oakland, and Fresno, that in 2010 helped the state write its second application for a federal Race to the Top grant.

That group has worked with districts on professional development for the Common Core State Standards. It has also worked with districts on how to better attract, retain, and evaluate teachers.

The CTA's Mr. Vogel worries that core does not have a good track record of working with educators. But Tony Smith, the superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District, who is on CORE's board of directors, said he hopes other informal groups of districts will coalesce to solve problems.

"That agenda probably would have emerged regardless of the state's situation," Mr. Smith said. "But, of course, when you have so many deep cuts and the challenges that we have been facing, you're going to look to folks who keep doing good work, instead of waiting for the answer to come."

Vol. 31, Issue 31, Pages 21-23

Published in Print: May 16, 2012, as Lofty K-12 Goals Unmet In Calif., Report Finds
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