Californians support many aspects of the governor’s education funding proposal. (Photo Credit: Matthew Grant Anson)
Governor Jerry Brown, having freshly touched down in California after a week of wooing investors in China, returns to a complicated state grappling with CEQA, immigration reform, and a controversial Realignment strategy.
But there is some good news for Brown; according to a statewide survey put out by the Public Policy Institute of California, a very healthy majority of Californians support the governor’s proposal to both increase funding to districts with low income students learning English as well as giving school districts more autonomy in choosing how to spend state funds.
By far the most popular element of the governor’s proposal is in the realm of local control over funding, where a whopping 79 percent of likely voters favor the additional flexibility. It’s no coincidence that the overwhelming support for more local spending control comes at a time when 83 percent of Californians believe the quality of education is a problem, and 63 percent say the current amount being spent on schools isn’t enough.
“The mood about the state of California’s public schools has brightened somewhat with an improving economy and budget situation,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “But many Californians are still worried about how state funding will affect their local public schools.”
Darryl Adams, a long-time school board member of the Norwalk La Mirada School District, believes that local school officials know their communities better than the people in Sacramento.
“I’m not surprised at the results of the poll. When our school district has the flexibility to make decisions with how funds will be spent, we can think about what’s best for the school and the students who attend it,” Adams told California Forward Reporting. “More local control on how money is spent benefits our students and their families.”
Former LAUSD school board member and noted school reformer Yolie Flores agrees that local school districts have a better understanding of where funds need to go.
“Local schools are much better positioned to determine the needs of students — much better than state government bureaucrats that are often more interested in compliance mandates,” Flores said. “Having more flexibility to determine how to use education resources would be a big win for kids and a welcome change from parents and teachers across California.”
The flexibility element of Governor Brown’s proposal is key, and it also happens to be the least controversial element of what the governor has proposed. While 71 percent of Californians favor providing more funding for English learners and low income students, the number in favor drops to 60 percent when it comes to people that are likely to actually vote. This drop stands in contrast to the differential in support between the two groups for school district flexibility – in short, there is no drop: 78 percent of Californians support it, and the number increases to 79 percent in favor when it comes to likely voters.
Susan Lovenburg a trustee of the Davis Joint Unified School District as well as Director of Partnership for Economic Prosperity at California Forward, points to a general need to bring efficiency and transparency to California’s academics, and the Local Control Funding Formula is a step in that direction.
“The goal is to modernize and simplify California’s overly complex and outdated school finance system, making it much more transparent to the average citizen,” Lovenburg said. “Under this proposal, additional funding will be provided for students requiring the most support for academic achievement. Local districts will be provided the flexibility to tailor programs and services to the specific needs of their student populations.”
Wresting control away from the state and giving more of it to the local communities that know best may be the silver bullet for restoring California’s K-12 to the world-renowned status it once enjoyed.