California State Senate bill recommends new state K-12 funding model

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A California State Senate bill introduced Thursday recommends changes to the K-12 funding plan proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown in January.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, along with eight other Democratic senators, proposed their new plan, SB 69, citing concerns that the governor’s plan fails to tie funding to districts’ performance and ignores low-income students in nonpoor districts.

“We believe strongly in the principle and foundation underlying the Governor’s proposal,” Steinberg said in a press release. “But the Governor’s way leaves poor kids who are in a non-poor district, invisible.”

The governor’s plan, known as the “Local Control Funding formula,” directs additional funds to students with the greatest need — low-income students, English learners and foster youth. But one portion of the plan, known as the “concentration grant,” allocates additional funds to districts in which 50 percent of the student population qualifies as being educationally disadvantaged.

“(Under Brown’s plan) thousands of kids would remain invisible, because if you’re a poor kid in one of those districts that is not in that 50 percent category, you are not getting the concentration grant,” Steinberg said during an education committee hearing.

Steinberg’s proposal aims to provide greater accountability and change the formula for allocating concentration grants, according to a Steinberg spokesperson Rhys Williams.

According to Williams, SB 69 aims to allocate funds more equally across the state by redistributing concentration grants under different formulas. These would distribute funds based on the total number of students in a school or the proportion of disadvantaged students in a school.

The bill also requires more comprehensive data collection and requires districts to demonstrate improved outcomes for student subgroups, while districts that do not show academic improvement could see restrictions on their funding.

But Jonathan Kaplan, a policy analyst at the California Budget Project — a nonpartisan fiscal and education policy group — said Steinberg’s proposal would “water down” the K-12 funding plan. Kaplan noted that the senator’s concern for “forgotten students” could just as easily apply to his bill.

“What happens to students in high concentration of poverty?” he said. “What happens if you spread their funds throughout the state? I would suggest that would be forgetting students who come from areas of high concentration.”

John Deasy, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said concentration grants are needed because low-income students in highly concentrated districts have unique difficulties.

“When you have students in large concentrations, the social fabric that students of privilege provide — an invisible set of resources — are missing,” he said at a press conference with Brown. “You need more resources.”

Berkeley Unified School District school board member Josh Daniels welcomes both plans, saying he supports any additional funding for the district even though he has not yet analyzed SB 69 specifically.

“The current education funding system is highly irrational and underfunded,” Daniels said. “Anything we can do to increase the funding to address the irrationality would be a positive thing for Berkeley and California.”

Both proposals would increase per pupil funding, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Although the analyst’s office has not published a report on SB 69 yet, an LAO report on the governor’s restructuring plan agrees that several changes should be made.

“Our research suggests that the qualifications for receiving the concentration grants should be higher — right now, it’s half the districts in the state,” said Rachel Ehlers, an education analyst at the LAO. “If this is supposed to address districts that are facing disproportionately higher challenges, then they should be limited to districts with truly higher concentration of the poorest students.”

Alex Berryhill covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @berryhill93.