SACRAMENTO (AP) — California schools will receive an infusion of more than $3.6 billion in extra money this year, much of it targeted to the neediest students as part of a redistribution plan pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
The Democratic governor hopes that dramatically reshaping how state aid is handed out will correct decades of inequality between districts. He also wants to give local schools much of the responsibility to decide how the money is spent.
Whether the additional money will actually help close the longstanding achievement gap between poor and minority students and their counterparts hinges almost entirely on how the money is spent. Yet just days before lawmakers are expected to begin voting on the budget Friday, there is little guidance for them to follow.
The Legislature, which is dominated by Democratic lawmakers with close ties to the state’s powerful teachers unions, appears likely to avoid attaching rigorous standards to the extra money, possibly pushing many of the decisions regarding oversight and accountability to the appointed state Board of Education. That worries advocates for education reform.
“It concerns us that so many of these critical issues are being punted in some ways to the state Board of Education,” said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of The Education Trust-West, which advocates for poor and minority children.
He said lawmakers need to include strict language in the state budget for fiscal transparency, parental involvement and accountability to ensure the money is spent as intended — to directly benefit disadvantaged students.
“Without those three things, the public’s going to say, ‘You gave a bunch of money to poor kids. What happened to it? And what benefits did it produce?’” Ramanathan said.
Memos from the Democratic leadership indicate the package will require districts to spend the extra money on disadvantaged students but leave regulations up the state Board of Education. It will also require public input in annual updates to local plans.
The new funding formula targets more money to the school districts with the highest concentrations of students who are from low-income households, have limited English proficiency or are foster children, the same schools where the so-called achievement gap is most acute. Schools with the highest proportions of black and Latino students have historically fared less well and had less money per pupil compared to those attended by whites and Asians.