Winners, Losers and Political Sausage

When I attended the Edsource Symposium last May, the head of the state board of Education, Michael Kirst, got a bit testy when audience members started asking pointed questions about “winners and losers“.   Paraphrasing broadly, he said to forget the past funding formula.  It is over.  Stop comparing yourselves to others and stop talking about what you would have received.

However, there are deep concerns in the education community that the “base funding” amount is simply not enough, as districts with few students earning additional dollars are now faced with additional spending cuts.

These districts are often marginalized and dismissed with the idea that they don’t have the same challenges that other districts have.  But when basic services to students have to be cut, it points to a larger issue that affects us all.  Yes, districts with many English learners and students in poverty have more funds.  However the debate is now raging about how the extra funds must be spent.  Various groups are lobbying hard that the additional funds be spent only on “extras” for the students who earned them.  If this happens it means that every district is going to face the same reality that districts such as Coronado are now facing.

That reality is that the new funding formula is a compromise resulting from political sausage-making, not hard data.  It has left all districts short on an ability to deliver a high quality base program to non-impacted students.

The formula was not created based on answers to a few basic questions such as  “What does it actually cost to teach English to an English learner?” and  “What exactly are the needs of students in poverty and what does it cost to meet those needs?”

After the initial flurry of excitement about finally seeing more money for education, an exploration of the details is a sobering experience.

If you have 25 minutes, I highly recommend Ron Bennett’s presentation to Oakland Unified.  Although he specifically addresses OUSD’s funding situation, he also clearly explains the formula in general, and the politics behind the formula’s implementation.

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