Ryan McDonald

Assembly bill would boost state funding for local school districts

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Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi at a 2016 campaign rally with Gov. Jerry Brown and Toni Atkins, now president pro tempore of the California State Senate. Muratsuchi has introduced a bill that would increase money available to school districts under Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula. Photo by Kevin Cody

 

by Ryan McDonald

A bill proposed by local Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi could substantially increase the funds available to school districts throughout the state, providing aid for the Hermosa Beach schools and other local districts that are among the lowest funded in the state.

Assembly Bill 2808 would tack on a 60 percent increase to the 2018-19 level of the Local Control Funding Formula, the complex set of rules that help determine how state funds are parceled out to local school districts. If adopted, it would amount to a statewide increase of about $35 billion above current levels, Muratsuchi said in a conference call with reporters.

“For too long, California has been below the national average in per-pupil K-12 spending. AB 2808 will establish strong education funding targets to provide full funding for all public school students, regardless of where you live,” Muratsuchi said.

California currently ranks at or near the bottom among states in several funding metrics, a situation exacerbated by the state’s relatively high cost of living. As a result, education officials say, the Golden State also has some of the largest student-to-teacher and student-to-counselor ratios. The state once placed among the leaders in funding K-12 education but began its race to the cellar following the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978.

In his prior term as Governor, Jerry Brown overhauled how state funds are distributed to districts by introducing the Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF. Under LCFF, districts receive a base per-student amount and receive more depending on the share of “targeted disadvantaged students” in the district. These students, commonly referred to as the “unduplicated” population, are defined as those students who are eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch, English learners, or in foster care.

The formula was based on the widely accepted belief that such students arrive at the campus with greater challenges, and are more expensive to educate. Because  school districts in the affluent Beach Cities Muratsuchi represents have such small populations of these students, they are among the lowest funded in the state.

But Muratsuchi’s bill would not change the relative position of local districts under LCFF. Instead, it would raise the “base level” of funding available to all districts. He said he was not “trying to pick winners and losers,” and noted that support for the bill was widespread.

“We just had an Assembly budget hearing this morning: districts ranging from Sacramento Unified to Oakland Unified to suburban districts like Torrance, all testifying that the base grant formula is inadequate to meet the rising costs of educating our kids,” Muratsuchi said Tuesday.

School board members in Hermosa, Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach regularly lament the fact that that they rank near the bottom in state funding scheme, and have attributed the persistent scramble for funds by local education foundations to their lower funding level. Over the past several months, Muratsuchi met with officials from local school districts to rally support for the bill.  The school boards in Hermosa and Redondo have passed resolutions in support of the bill. The Manhattan Beach Unified School District has not yet taken up the issue, but board members have previously stated that they have met with Muratsuchi to discuss LCFF.

“He has been visiting with stakeholders and superintendents, trying to support those of us who are really underfunded,” said Pat Escalante, superintendent of the Hermosa Beach City School District, at a school board meeting last month.

LCFF replaced a system of funding in which the amount districts received bore “little relation to educational costs or student needs,” said a 2008 research paper from the UC Berkeley School of Law that significantly influenced the program’s design. At the time, high-poverty districts were receiving “only slightly more revenue” for each student in class than low-poverty districts, the report concluded.

Despite some criticism and several lawsuits over how the added money has been spent, many districts with higher shares of unduplicated students have used the added funds under LCFF to increase staffing and programming. A California Teachers’ Association representative who joined Muratsuchi on the conference call said that it has had a “positive impact.” But despite the funding push, students in high-poverty areas continue to lag behind their wealthier peers in education resources. A study released last year by The Education Trust-West evaluating the first years of LCFF found that schools in affluent areas remained more likely to offer advanced math and science classes and that students in those schools were twice as likely as students in poor districts to have access to an on-campus librarian.

Brown rolled out LCFF as California was recovering from the Great Recession when state budgets were slashed amid declining tax revenues. The targets under the plan would have restored districts to the funding levels they enjoyed before the financial crisis, but have never been fully funded. According to an analysis of AB 2808 for the Assembly Committee on Education, Brown has proposed meeting that funding level for the first time in the 2018-19 school year.

Since that time, however, districts have confronted growing financial burdens, including higher contributions to employee retirement funds and special education. For years the federal government has not met its funding obligations to states for special education, forcing states and eventually districts to pick up the tab. In the MBUSD, for example, spending on special education went from $8.5 million in 2006 to $13.1 million last year, but funding from the state and federal governments increased by only half a million dollars over that time.

If passed and signed by the governor, Muratsuchi’s bill would bring California to about the national median in per-pupil spending. The Assembly’s education subcommittee held the first vote on the measure after press time on Wednesday, but Muratsuchi said the bill had been “well received,” and that it was critical to lock in higher funding levels while the state was flush.

“Clearly, as California’s economy has been growing, we’ve been able to restore education funding for the last seven years. That will not go on forever,” he said.

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