Gov. Jerry Brown has thrown down a gauntlet to California legislators, challenging them to dramatically change the way schools are funded — by giving more new money to districts with a high percentage of low-income and English learners than to other districts.
He also wants to give more flexibility to all districts by allowing local school boards to make most decisions about how they spend state funding. This means money previously designated for specific students or programs could come with no strings attached.
A Public Policy Institute of California poll released earlier this week showed a majority of those surveyed back the governor’s proposal, which is called the Local Control Funding Formula. This has bolstered the hopes of supporters of the plan, who fear critics could sway legislators to back away from making bold changes to the education budget.
“There are some in the capitol that are saying we need to make all districts whole before we pursue a policy goal of making a more equitable finance system,” said Jonathan Kaplan, senior policy analyst for the California Budget Project. “The way I read the findings is that there’s some dissonance between these findings and that perspective.”
Some districts are arguing that before any extra money is doled out to those with needier students, funding for all of them should be raised back to the levels they received before the state started making deep cuts to the education budget several years ago. The poll showed that 59 percent of Californians think the state needs to spend more money on education overall and that 71 percent support the governor’s plan to direct more funding to low-income students and those who don’t speak English fluently.
Significantly, 66 percent said districts with low-income students should get additional funding, even if it means giving less to others. Fifty-four percent said districts with more English learners should get additional funds, even if others get less.
Arun Ramanathan, executive director of the children’s advocacy organization Education Trust-West, said he was surprised, but pleased by these findings.
“It gives me great faith in California and Californians that they’re focused on equity and also focused on the notion that it’s going to take making tough choices,” he said. “Looking at the Legislature’s approval ratings, it would be quite interesting if they went and opposed something that was so clearly popular with California voters.”
The Legislature’s approval rating, as well as its approval rating for how it is handling K-12 education, was 31 percent, according to the survey. Fifty-three percent disapproved of the Legislature overall and half of those surveyed disapproved of the Legislature’s handling of K-12 education.
But Kaplan cautioned that the poll presents state results, which might not reflect the views of voters in some areas.
“They’re reflecting statewide attitudes,” he said. “The elected officials who are debating this proposal are in very particular, distinct geographical areas of the state, so we don’t know what this polling data would look like if it were in a specific Legislative district. The question will be where specific representatives will stand.”
Still, the poll did release some data that narrowed down who supported giving new education funding mostly to districts with more English learners and low-income students. Here’s a rundown of those findings:
- 71 percent of all adults favor (21 percent oppose)
- 60 percent of likely voters favor (31 percent oppose)
- 72 percent of public school parents favor (23 percent oppose)
- 80 percent of Democrats favor (15 percent oppose)
- 45 percent of Republicans favor (42 percent oppose)
- 62 percent of Independents favor (30 percent oppose)
- 73 percent of Asians favor (17 percent oppose)
- 79 percent of Blacks favor (21 percent oppose)
- 88 percent of Latinos favor (8 percent oppose)
- 59 percent of Whites favor (32 percent oppose)
- 83 percent of those with incomes under $40,000 favor (11 percent oppose)
- 68 percent of those with incomes of $40,000-$80,000 favor (25 percent oppose)
- 58 percent of those with incomes of $80,000 or more favor (34 percent oppose)
It also showed what voters from different geographic thought about shifting control over spending to local districts. In the Bay Area, 34 percent of those surveyed said local schools should have the most control over spending, compared to 36 percent statewide. Forty-seven percent of Bay Area respondents said local districts should have more control, compared to 43 percent statewide. And 18 percent said the state should have the most control over spending, compared to 16 percent statewide.
Bay Area voters nearly mirrored statewide results related to giving more flexibility in spending to districts. Seventy-eight percent of Californians and Bay Area residents said districts should get more flexibility, while 17 percent of Californians and 15 percent of Bay Area residents opposed this idea.
Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, who heads up the Assembly Education Budget Subcommittee, said she thinks the Legislature could find a way to provide more funding to all districts, while also giving more to those with the neediest students.
“I don’t feel that raising the base rate for all students and meeting the needs of those with huge disparities are mutually exclusive goals,” she said. “I think that we can find a compromise where we can increase the base rate for every student and also put extra money toward our neediest schools and neediest students. What we’re really looking at right now is: Can we build a compromise within the governor’s proposal that would not have undue negative consequences for any particular group of students?”
Here’s a breakdown of more of the survey results:
Do you support the governor’s proposal?