Brown’s proposal is no cure-all, but offers long-awaited aid to the state’s most vulnerable students.
Brown’s proposal could be the biggest change to public school funding in California in 40 years. Currently, the allocation of state funds to districts is based on an outdated formula from the 1970s, in which the amount a district receives depends on whether it is located in an agricultural area or not. This model has no equity and unfairly links the funding of a child’s education to his parents’ socioeconomic status.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the LCFF redistributes funds from well-performing school districts to struggling districts that serve higher concentrations of low-income students, English learners or foster children, thereby giving the neediest districts much-needed resources to supplement the state’s most vulnerable categories of students.
Furthermore, no districts will lose funding under the proposal so it’s not merely a zero-sum redistribution of funds — districts with higher concentrations of low-performing students won’t take away from other districts.
This redistribution of resources has raised concerns over whether increased spending per pupil will necessarily lead to higher academic performance. Critics argue that the plan lacks provisions to make sure the money isn’t misappropriated. In fact, a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll conducted in March revealed that 30 percent of respondents felt local school boards had “little or no confidence in their local boards to make the right calls.”
Administrators can just as easily claim the lion’s share of the new funds while teachers and other programs are shortchanged. But Californians need only look in their own backyard to see how highly paid administrators can provide a good education. The University of California system has been the target of much criticism regarding the hefty salaries that its administrators earn and yet the UC system remains arguably the best public school system in the nation, if not the world.
Regardless of where funds go, Brown’s proposal avoids the potential of misallocation by including accountability measures into his proposal. By not restricting how much money goes into what kind of categories of spending, districts have greater latitude to spend as they see fit for their individual needs while the dollars still go to ensuring the ultimate goal of higher academic achievement among pupils.
For some, that might mean increasing programs to support ESL students. For others, it means attracting better administrators with higher salaries.
As with many attempts at solving complex issues, many argue that LCFF does little to solve the various roots of the problem such as improving Americans’ attitudes regarding teachers and the tenure system. Yes, those are big problems that plague not just California’s but the nation’s education system as a whole.
Deep reform, however, is disruptive and introduces a lot of growing pains for students, and the effects of such reform might not be seen for decades down the road. By no means is this writer suggesting legislators forgo substantial reform in favor of short-term fixes — but there’s no reason we can’t do both.
Furthermore, there is the problem with the intangible qualities that facilitate a better education system. For example, many high-performing nations such as Finland and Japan have cultures of greater esteem for the teaching profession, which attracts better teachers and generates higher salaries.
But how does one cultivate respect for teachers in the United States? There is no legislating respect. So Brown is working for today’s children in the hopes that even an incrementally better educated workforce will pay off dividends for California’s future.
Jessie Wong is a junior majoring in public relations. She is also the editorial director and chief copy editor of the Summer Trojan.
Brown means well with, but fails to address the underlying issues for true education reform in California.
The governor’s proposal, which centers on the idea that the quality of a child’s education should not be contingent upon the socioeconomic status of his parents, is not only justified, but commendable. However, a redistribution of taxpayer dollars will not solve the deep-seated issues faced by California — and America’s — broken education system, which overpays administrators at the expense of students and does not prioritize the quality of teachers.
If giving school districts more money guarantees better test scores, America would not be doing so poorly among developed countries. According to EdSource, the U.S. spent an average of $11,824 per pupil in 2010, more than $2,000 per student than the average OECD country spent. Still, American students were outperformed by 16 countries when it came to international test scores.
Domestically, Washington D.C. led the pack in per-pupil funding in 2012, yet ended up placing 40th in student performance. Moreover, in California, with the way that state and federal educational policies are set up, the most economically challenged schools already receive about 36 percent more money per student than the most affluent districts according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The question is no longer how much we spend, but where that money goes. By international standards, the U.S. is spending more than enough but are not getting our money’s worth because the education dollars don’t actually end up in the classroom.
For every dollar that the government gave to Washington state school districts in 2010, only $0.59 went to the classroom wrote the Washington Policy Center. The rest? Straight into the paychecks of administrators. According to Connection Newspapers, the average salary for a school administrator is more than $100,000, and in many school districts, they account for almost half of “education employees.”
That’s not to say that administrators don’t have the ability to make a big impact, but the people who are truly able to make a positive difference in the lives of students are teachers, who bring home a much smaller paycheck.
The common denominator of the countries that lead in education performance is not per pupil spending, but something else: teacher respect. In countries such as Finland, Japan and South Korea, teaching is a venerable profession that offers a good salary and consistently draws the brightest students according to the New York Times.
The story is quite different in the U.S. In a September 2010 study done by McKinsey & Company and published by the New York Times, it was estimated that nearly half of school teachers come from the bottom third of their graduating class — in terms of SAT scores.
This study has been disputed by scholars and journalists alike -— and rightly so because it’s a fact that there are many brilliant, enthusiastic and dedicated teachers in America. However, that brilliance, enthusiasm, and dedication is the exception, not the norm. America’s schools are plagued with teachers who are unqualified, burnt out or just don’t care.
Another culprit is America’s outdated and counterproductive tenure system. Most teachers are offered tenure after as little as two years of teaching, after which it becomes increasingly difficult to fire them according to Time. The purpose of this system was to provide teachers with a sense of job security and and prevent them from being dismissed as a result of discrimination. The result is that experienced teachers become complacent because it is difficult and expensive to remove them.
If Brown wants to get California schools out of the rut, a major reformation must occur.
Shuffling money from the rich to the poor will not solve any long-term problems. The problem lies in our backward values system, and the solution needs to start with more stringent teacher qualifications and greater respect for them all.
Murong He is a junior majoring in accounting.