A Path to Equitable School Funding

A recent analysis of California state funding indicates that inequity in school funding occurs throughout the funding system, across regions, and within districts. This issue of Equity in California’s Schools, explains that “Although California, unlike many states, does not use per-pupil allotments to distribute dollars to districts, differences in per-pupil funding across regions and school populations do exist.” The analysis concludes, “Education funding in California remains highly inequitable, and provides little hope for schools and districts that serve large numbers of students who are poor and are of color.”

Stevens believes that while some funding initiatives have not met the intent of equity, there are still opportunities to identify areas where funding inequity exists.

What are your recommendations for updating the LCFF model, and why?

The last time LCFF was updated was in 2009. I wrote a paper that included a proposed ballot initiative to improve the way districts apply LCFF dollars. The details of the proposal were drafted in partnership with researchers from UC Berkeley. When the plan was adopted, we didn’t understand how it would work out in practice.

California’s response to the school funding gap has been to create what is called the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). It’s essentially a subsidy to districts that have money to spend and little else to spend it on. A more nuanced understanding of equity can help us reach for better policies and practices.

What would your proposed model mean for students and schools?

If the federal government were to allow states to apply for additional funds to provide equitable and sustainable school funding, schools would be free to use those funds for training teachers and providing educational materials, but they would have to provide an equal percentage of their funding to all students and to all schools that do not qualify for assistance. I do not advocate solely for the advancement of racial equity; I’m also a parent of two white children, and I think this solution would be great for my children. However, I think that in the absence of such federal support, this funding would be used in the best interest of the entire school community.

How does such a change relate to equity?

The issue of equity, which is strongly tied to the question of funding equity, has been going on for over two decades now. There’s a huge range of opinions about the best way to approach this problem. Some people think that simply having more money in a budget will magically turn things around. But most of us realize that it won’t. A more equitable approach requires us to think about better ways to organize our schools to support the needs of our most vulnerable students.

Your research shows that inequalities in school funding occur in two important ways:

(1) Low-income schools get less money than high-income schools; and

(2) Different student populations face different funding levels or receive different levels of funding, based on other characteristics, including race and ethnicity.

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