San Diego Unified School District develops funding adequacy calculation tool

150 150 Aaron Davis

(Photo Credit: Violeta Vaqueiro)

Editor’s Note: CA Fwd is partnering with the California School Boards Association (CSBA) and a collaborative of leaders from 15 California school districts and two county offices of education to determine best practices to take advantage of new funding and control offered to local education in the state. A big issue facing education is the adequacy of funding for our public schools. We are republishing an article by the CSBA that discusses a new tool that has been developed to measure adequacy in school districts.

With a day in court pending for the Robles-Wong v. California lawsuit and the formation of CSBA’s Adequacy Committee by the Education Legal Alliance, the issue of funding adequacy is squarely on the front burner for CSBA in 2015. School governance leaders statewide are also taking measures to address this critical issue.

Last October, the board of the San Diego Unified School District and Superintendent Cindy Marten approved a long-term advocacy plan to address adequate funding. The cornerstone of this plan was the development of a high-level estimate of the funds that would be needed to fully implement the district’s LCAP as well as its long-term strategic plan. The result is an adequacy template that seeks to answer the simple yet fundamentally critical question that hovers over the entire issue: what will it really take to educate our children?

“The purpose of the template was always to be used as part of the larger discussion around funding adequacy in California public schools,” said Marten, who is a member of CSBA’s LCFF Collaborative Working Group, which reviewed the template in February with largely positive results.

“San Diego Unified decided to take the lead in developing the template to complete it with our own numbers,” Marten said, “with the goal to seek cooperation from other school districts to develop their own estimates of the cost of implementing their LCAPs to improve student achievement.”

“The template represents what we consider the “true costs” of educating students to be based on more realistic expenditures. We believe this could lead up to the calculation of a base grant amount that would be needed by districts across the state, and that this aggregate number could be used as a more concrete definition of funding adequacy,” she added.

SDUSD’s spreadsheet-based template is divided into five separate levels: elementary, middle and high schools, as well as student services and districtwide expenditures. For each of the five levels, there are separate worksheets to show the staffing implications of adequate funding and to reflect the costs, with another worksheet that will combine the staffing and cost projections.

Perhaps the most critical worksheet is the one that calculates the differences between current and adequate funding in the previous worksheets. This “funding gap” is the subject of ongoing adequacy discussions.

“This last worksheet is the bottom line for legislators to demonstrate the increased investment required to bring California schools to an adequate funding level,” said Marten, who noted that the template was not designed to reflect every cost incurred by a school district, but rather to highlight changes that would be accomplished with additional resources.

“By completing this template, districts will set the benchmark in defining what an adequate level of funding is and looks like to California’s schools,” Marten added. “The information provided through this template can be used for future advocacy conversations with state legislators and the Governor’s Administration to illustrate how woefully underfunded California public schools truly are. It is our hope that if enough school districts complete this template to come up with their own projections of what adequacy means for them at the local level, the Legislature will be prompted to host a series of informational hearings to discuss the definition of adequacy and the steps California would need to take to develop a long-term investment plan.”

Other board members from throughout the state agree with Superintendent Marten’s assessment that this type of data is key to prompting change.

“I have been saying for many years that it is not acceptable for California to be so far below the national average in per-pupil funding. Our State simply does not invest enough in its future, so any tool that will allow us to illustrate this is of great interest,” said Jody London, an Oakland Unified School District board member, CSBA Delegate and an LCFF Collaborative member.

“We need to show more vividly to lawmakers, and more importantly the general public, why this matters,” London said.

Oakland Unified is one of several districts that have expressed interest in applying SDUSD’s adequacy tool to their district. Like London, Marten stressed the importance of school governance leaders taking proactive steps to advance discussion on funding adequacy for public education, stating that “together, school districts across California could send a powerful statement to Sacramento.”

School districts interested in completing the template for their district and collaborating on advocacy efforts can contact Martha Alvarez, director of government relations for SDUSD, at or (916) 798-1338


Aaron Davis

All stories by: Aaron Davis