April 24, 2013
By Liz Guillen
The Assembly Education Committee meets today to discuss (but not vote on) key school finance bills. One of these, AB 88 (Buchanan), is the Assembly’s vehicle for having a policy discussion on Governor Brown’s budget proposal to change K-12 school funding using his Local Control Funding Formula or LCFF. The bill was amended two weeks ago with the Administration’s budget trailer bill language for LCFF.
It’s sure to be a pitched battle between now and the final vote. It also promises to be a confusing one, especially for first-timers to the topic. That’s because it’s hard to keep track of all the numbers flying in support of the various arguments.
But no matter whose numbers you look at, the irrationalities in the current system cannot be justified. All each legislator need do is to look at all the school districts they represent – both across the state and within their own community. They’ll find no rhyme or reason for why districts of similar size and student demographics receive less or more state funding than each other. Worse, students with the greatest academic needs are treated differently in different districts.
The fact that our current funding system is not consistent or rational is not news to the public and their elected representatives. Yet, the current conversation is being dominated by adults in school districts, many of whom currently benefit by this irrationality. Lost in the debate are the voices of students and their parents disadvantaged by the current inequitable system who can describe what’s really at stake.
Enter students from Oakland Unified and West Contra Costa Unified School Districts, who will be in Sacramento to make their voices heard. They’re members of Youth Together, a youth organizing group. They’ll be joined by organizers from Oakland’s Parent Leadership Action Network (PLAN). These organizations are part of a statewide alliance called the Campaign for Quality Education or CQE. They’ll no doubt be met by critics of the Governor’s proposal who insist that we shouldn’t adopt LCFF until we adequately fund the system first.
Adequacy is certainly a good goal. It’s just not possible in this Legislature. They wouldn’t even pass legislation carving out a plan for determining adequacy. We know. We tried. That’s why we’re representing Youth Together, PLAN and other CQE groups and community-based organizations in the lawsuit Campaign for Quality Education v. California demanding the current funding system be judged unconstitutional because it is both inadequate AND inequitable (see www.fairschoolsnow.org).
But the fact that LCFF doesn’t fix inadequacy is no reason to reject or delay LCFF. We can and should create an equitable formula now that locks in new funding — this year and in the future — by a formula that gives every student the same base amount, and then provides additional funding for disadvantaged students. New funding should not be subject every budget year to the political maneuvering of more powerful school districts and communities that are privileged in today’s funding system.
Governor Brown’s LCFF proposal is intended to level the playing field by making the system equitable. While adequacy should be addressed in the future, hopefully the failure to address adequacy now won’t keep the Legislature from moving to an equity formula. It’s time to listen to students and parents that are most disadvantaged by the current system.
Bottom line: there’s no excuse for maintaining a status quo in which some districts have an inequitable advantage in state funding. No matter how much funding there is for our public schools, an equitable funding formula is good for the whole state of California.