Conditions of Education is taking a brief break from research this week to say thank you to all the amazing people who work so hard to improve education in California. To the teachers, administrators and staff whose daily work benefits us all, and to the practitioners, researchers, staffers, legislators, think-tankers, policy wonks and advocates who contribute to education policy in Sacramento and across the state: thank you. We wish a safe and happy Thanksgiving to you all!
Jennifer Imazeki is a Professor of Economics at San Diego State University where she teaches courses in applied microeconomics and conducts research in the economics of K-12 education, including work on school finance reform and adequacy, and teacher labor markets. Dr. Imazeki has published several articles in professional journals such as the Review of Economics and Statistics, Economics of Education Review, National Tax Journal, and Journal of Education Finance, as well as chapters in a number of books on school finance. She is a member of the American Economic Association, the Association of Public Policy Analysis and Management, and has served on the Board of Directors of the American Education Finance Association and the Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession. With Andrew Reschovsky, Dr. Imazeki conducted an analysis of the costs of an adequate education in Texas for the plaintiffs in West Orange-Cove et al v. Neeley et al, and has published several papers related to that work. In Florida, she provided expert assistance on teacher cost adjustments to the plaintiffs in Miami-Dade et al v. King et al. She has also completed studies on adequacy and/or teacher costs in Wisconsin, Illinois, Washington and California, including contributing to the Getting Down to Facts project. She recently assisted California Assemblywoman Julia Brownley to develop legislation for comprehensive school finance reform, and is currently working on a study of Californias categorical flexibility provisions, adopted in 2008. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The two biggest problems with California’s current system of school finance are 1) the revenue allocations are inequitable and have no connection to cost or need, and 2) having categorical restrictions on such a large share of the funding creates inefficiencies that prevent districts from achieving the best outcomes for their students. Brown’s proposal is the only one on the table that addresses both of these problems head on.
Almost all states provide additional, differential funding for at least a few cost factors beyond poverty and English Learners. Such funding could be allocated through weights or adjustments to the base formula, or through separate categorical streams. However, there is a great deal of variation across states in which factors are included.
Low-income and English Learner are two of the most common categories of student need that states include in their school funding formulas. In many states, the amount allocated for these higher-cost students is determined through pupil weights, set as a percentage of the base allocation. What are the right weights? Should the weight change with the concentration of need? Will California districts abandon these students without the threat of losing categorical funding?
The cost of education can be defined as the minimum amount of money that a school district must spend in order to achieve a given educational outcome. There are multiple ways to incorporate costs into a state funding system, and each has implications for local control and governance.