ETW: California’s Funding System Hurts Its Poorest Students

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A new Ed Trust West (ETW) report, “The Cruel Divide: How California’s Education Finance System Shortchanges its Poorest School Districts,” reveals that the nation’s most populous state  systematically underfunds the districts, schools, and students who desperately need the most support.

The report shows how districts with the highest concentrations of low-income students receive $620 less per student from state and local sources than the wealthiest districts. For a mid-sized school district of 6,000 students, that gap adds up to more than $3.7 million per year.

In short, when it comes to education, it’s all about location: Where a family lives can make a huge difference. For example, in San Diego County, the wealthy Solana Beach Elementary School District had total revenue-limit funding of $10,613 per student. Compare this with the nearby National Elementary School District, which had revenue-limit funding of $5,607 per student — close to half that of Solana Beach.

The report lauds recent calls by Gov. Jerry Brown to reform California’s education finance system. However, it recommends further moves by state leaders.

• Simplify the school finance system so that policymakers, educators, and the public can grasp where money comes from and how it is spent.
• Provide extra funds for high-need students through a student-based funding model.
• Monitor and prevent gaps in local revenue between high and low-poverty communities.

Steps like these could help build equity not only in the Golden State, but in other states around the country where large funding gaps remain between higher income and low-income school districts.

—Paula Amann