California’s new system for funding public education has pumped tens of billions of extra dollars into struggling schools, but there’s little evidence yet that the investment is helping the most disadvantaged students.
A CALmatters analysis of the biggest districts with the greatest clusters of needy children found limited success with the policy’s goal: to close the achievement gap between these students and their more privileged peers. Instead, results in most of those places show the gap is growing.
The test scores echo a broader and growing concern about the four-year-old Local Control Funding Formula from civil rights groups, researchers and legislators. They also raise concerns about whether the $31 billion invested so far in foster youth, kids learning English and students from low-income families has been well spent.
Here’s a cynical view: Maybe the law’s stated goal wasn’t its real goal. Maybe influential teachers unions wanted to shower big districts with money to pave the way for teacher pay raises denied during the state’s long revenue recession. Want evidence?
On the micro level, consider what happened in Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest district. In August 2014, the United Teachers Los Angeles issued a statement calling for a 17.6 pay increase and asserting the raise was affordable because of all the “extra dollars [that] have already flowed into the district as part of the state’s new funding formula.” In May 2015, the union ended up winning a 10 percent, two-year raise, and a year of retroactive higher pay. The following month, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson overruled an underling and said that Local Control Funding Formula money could be used for teacher raises. As Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, immediately pointed out, this is not what the Legislature intended when it passed the law.
On the macro level, consider what’s happened in Sacramento. The Brown administration has been implacably opposed to attempts led by Weber and Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, to determine how school districts have spent their Local Control funds. It doesn’t want the public to know.
Should taxpayers underwrite special benefits to attract new teachers, such as affordable housing, expanded maternity leave and tax breaks? California lawmakers have put forward a raft of proposals offering extra perks for teachers this session, prompted by what supporters say is an urgent need to do more to encourage people to get into the profession or stay there. “Due to the extreme shortage of teachers in the state, many school districts must seek opportunities to attract qualified teachers,” Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, said of his bill meant to increase the supply of affordable housing for teachers. Available data, though, doesn’t back up such dire assessments of the state’s overall teacher supply. Data shows that, as state finances have improved, so have the number of teachers in public schools.
Over the past 15 years, 1.5 million more people have left California than have moved here from other states, according to estimates from the California Department of Finance. Remarkably, even in the face of this outflow, California still experiences net gains of college graduates (those with at least a bachelor’s degree). Over the past five years, California ranks second among all states in net gains of college graduates from other states, even as it ranks first in net losses of less educated adults.
YouthForce NOLA, a partnership of political, business and education leaders in New Orleans, places 1,200 high-school seniors from local public high schools in paid internships in fields such as software development and advanced manufacturing. Businesses work with school administrators to ensure students receive practical, skills-based classroom instruction. The goal is to help students obtain professional credentials for high-wage jobs that don’t require bachelor’s degrees. (YouthForce NOLA was the recipient of $5 million in grants from Bloomberg Philanthropies.)
Another successful model is the state-run Apprenticeship Carolina program in South Carolina, which serves as an intermediary between businesses, workers and educational institutions. It matches employers with the state’s technical colleges, who tailor classes to meet the companies’ needs, and handles most of the paperwork (companies have to register their apprenticeship programs with the federal and state governments). Employers are responsible for paying apprentices’ wages and mentoring them on the job. Since 2007, more than 25,000 South Carolina workers have completed apprenticeships; the number of companies participating in the program has increased from 90 to 880.