Gov. Jerry Brown has been seeking implementation of a "weighted student formula" that would give more school money to districts with high levels of poverty and other educational impediments and low levels of achievement.
But the proposal has been a hard sell in the Legislature, because districts that would lose money under the redistribution plan are opposed. This year, the Legislature passed only legislation that would create a "task force" to study the issue, but Brown vetoed Assembly Bill 18, saying, "a task force ... may actually delay action on reforms" and adding, "Rather than create a task force, let's work together and craft a fair weighted student formula."
The issue is expected to be joined again in 2013, but prospects for increasing overall school financing are dim. Brown's own tax measure, Proposition 30, is fading, and a rival tax measure just for schools, Proposition 38, is faring even worse. And without more money to lubricate the politics of the situation, districts that would lose under a weighted formula would be even less willing to accept it.
Brown's proposal, which has never been fully fleshed out, is now receiving flak from another source, Education Trust-West, an education think tank based in Oakland. It has issued a report that enthusiastically embraces a weighted formula, noting that only a handful of states are not using such a system, but says that Brown's proposal may fall short.
Using data from state and federal reports, "Tipping the Scale Towards Equity" says that just giving school districts with high levels of poverty more money won't necessarily help students because of inequitable distribution of funds within districts.
There is a distinct tendency, the report says, for districts to spend more money on their schools without educational deficiencies than on their schools with the most difficult-to-educate students - largely because more experienced, higher-paid teachers tend to be assigned to the former and newer, lower-paid teachers to the latter.
"Unfortunately, shifting to a weighted student formula at the state-level alone would not change this," the report concludes, suggesting that any mandated higher spending must be assigned to individual schools and perhaps individual students, not merely to districts.
That concept, however, runs counter to Brown's plan and also would engender more opposition from local school officials who would resent micro-managing.
The Ed-Trust West report also notes that getting accurate data about school level spending is difficult, so it's "impossible for stakeholders to know whether the funds are reaching schools and students."
Ed-Trust West researchers combined data from state and federal agencies to point out that many school districts report receiving much more revenue per student than they report spending. San Francisco Unified, for instance, reports to the state Department of Education of receiving $9,876 per pupil from state and local services but tells the federal Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights that it's spending just $4,428 per pupil.
"In the worse case scenario, the report says, "it would mean that district officials are not spending funds designated for students or schools but instead using these dollars to support increasing personnel costs or keeping funds in reserve."