This is an excerpt of On Assignment, education writer Theresa Harrington's blog on Contra Costa County schools. Read more and post comments at IBABuzz.com/onassignment. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa.

Feb. 22

A new formula proposed by the governor to radically change the way school districts are funded is creating a buzz statewide as officials look at projections released Wednesday that show some would get big revenue boosts while others would receive far less per student.

The rationale for the funding overhaul is that disadvantaged students cost more to educate. So districts that have a higher percentage of English learners and students who qualify for free and reduced priced meals should get more money than those that don't, the governor argues.

He would also do away with dozens of "categorical" funding streams that were created to funnel money into specific programs. Instead, the governor wants to give local control to school boards to decide how best to spend their dollars. While most school officials praise the local control part of the proposal, some that would get less money under the plan are critical of the funding formula. The formula would provide supplemental grants equal to 35 percent of the base per student revenue for each English learner, economically disadvantaged student or foster youth.


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Contra Costa County districts would see a wide variety of funding increases, ranging from a low of 12 percent growth in the tiny Canyon district to a high of nearly 71 percent in the Pittsburg district. Although the state says Canyon has no English learners or low-income students, Superintendent Gloria Faircloth said that's a mistake, and she estimates about 12 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunches. In Pittsburg, 80 percent of students are low-income, and 32 percent don't speak English fluently.

Officials in these and other districts said they are waiting to see what the final outcome will be.

"It should change a little bit, but it still doesn't look good for us," said Faircloth, whose district educates about 66 K-8 students. "We're so small, but with our operating costs, there's a lot of things we have to do, so we're not crazy about the new funding method. I understand why the governor wants to do this. It seems equitable for other districts, but we were all low, so it would be nice if we could go up (more)."

Canyon's funding would rise by $857 per student, from $6,945 in 2011-12 to $7,802 when the plan is fully implemented. Pittsburg's per student funding, on the other hand, would grow by $4,813 per student, rising from $6,799 in 2011-12 to $11,612 with full implementation.

Enrique Palacios, Pittsburg's deputy superintendent of business services, said more money will mean more accountability.

"The challenge is, OK, we're getting all this money," he said, "but now the expectation is we have to bring the performance of students up and the decisions are going to be left to the local level."

The San Ramon Valley Unified District, which currently receives about $6.6 million a year through a parcel tax, would get a funding increase of about 39 percent under the local funding formula, based on a relatively low number of needy students, including 4.5 percent English learners and 2.5 percent who qualify for free and reduced price meals.

"The concept of local control is something that I think all school districts have wanted back for a long, long time," said district spokesman Terry Koehne. "But the devil's in the details. That comes with a certain level of disparity. It's going to mean that our district will most likely not receive as much money as other districts, so it's a double-edged sword."

Orinda Union Elementary would see a bump of about $2,027 per student when the formula is fully implemented, going from about $5,753 in 2011-12 to $7,780 per student, or a 35 percent increase.

"We're very disappointed in the formula," said Orinda Superintendent Joe Jaconette. "There shouldn't really be winners and losers."

Moraga Superintendent Bruce Burns agreed, saying the state should strive to raise all districts to the national average.

"There's going to be some push-back from communities like Lamorinda," he said. "They pay higher property taxes and income taxes and would expect a return on their tax dollar investment."

For districts that believe they will need more money, Palacios said the governor is also proposing to lower the threshold for passing a parcel tax from two-thirds voter approval to 55 percent. Voters would have to approve such a change.

A breakdown of all the projections is at www.dof.ca.gov/reports_and_periodicals/district_estimate/view.php