Budget & Finance

Are Teacher Salary Bumps and California’s K-12 Funding System in Conflict?

By Stephen Sawchuk — June 19, 2015 2 min read
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Cross-posted from the Teacher Beat blog

Under a 2013 law, California took steps to revise its school-finance formula, eliminating most categorical programs. It put extra dollars in for each “unduplicated” student—low-income, English-language learner, or foster-care youth—and still more for those districts with a concentration of such students. In return, districts were asked to devise accountability plans for spending those funds to improve outcomes for those students.

The Local Control Funding Formula, as it’s called, has received a lot of attention. (Check out my colleague Andrew Ujifusa’s look at the first year of implementation.) Now, some of the nuances of that overhaul are kicking in: For example, in their plans, can districts use the extra cash for high-needs students for across-the-board teacher-salary increases (rather than targeted increases for some teachers)?

It would seem to contradict the idea of special assistance, after all, if the funds go to all teachers, regardless of which students they’re instructing.

But in a June 10 letter to district superintendents and charter administrators, state Superintendent Tom Torlakson explained that the approach is possible, as long as the district shows that such a move would particularly benefit students in those groups, as opposed to all students.

“For example, a district may be able to document in its LCAP that its salaries result in difficulties in recruiting, hiring, or retaining qualified staff which adversely affects the quality of the district’s educational program, particularly for unduplicated pupils, and that the salary increase will address these adverse impacts. In this scenario, this district LCAP might specify a goal of increasing academic achievement of its unduplicated pupils and a related area of need for more teachers in the district with experience teaching the district’s curriculum.”

The catch is that this letter is markedly softer, at least in tone, than an April letter that went out from a different official in the state education department. That letter said that, while not impossible, it would be difficult to argue for giving across-the-board teacher-salary raises under LCAP.

“As a general proposition, such an increase will not increase or improve services for unduplicated pupils,” wrote Jeff Breshears, a state administrator.

The California Teachers Association, which spent gobs of money on a closely contested race to re-elect Torlakson, said it supports his view. But others in the state are pushing back.

“Lowering the burden of proof for salary increases only further exacerbates circumstances that the poverty supplemental and concentration grants are intended to mitigate,” state Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, told the San Diego Union Tribune. “It is disturbing to see the Superintendent reverse course on allowing the use of supplemental and concentration dollars for across the board salary increases. This comes just months after the department provided that such use will require a very high burden of proof.”

John Fensterwald does his usual great job elucidating all the nuances here, so head on over to EdSource to read his take.

You can read Torlakson’s letter here.

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