Trade-offs and Policy Alternatives for California
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The method California uses to count students for funding purposes is an important decision that drives both resources and behaviors. For more than 100 years, California has funded school districts based on the average number of students who attend school each day. Although this average daily attendance (ADA) method was once used by many states, the practice has faded. Now, California is one of just six states that use ADA to allocate state education funding to school districts. The remaining states use other student count methods such as average enrollment. Some state legislators, advocates...
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California enacted a groundbreaking shift to its school-funding system when it passed the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) in 2013. The law sought to make funding more equitable and also aimed to increase local control based on the premise that budgeting decisions are best made at the local level in partnership with community stakeholders, who must, in turn, hold the district accountable. This report takes stock of LCFF 8 years after its passage and explores ways it can be further refined to improve equitable funding, opportunities, and outcomes in California. Our findings are based on: (a...

The Path Towards Reimagining and Rebuilding Schools
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The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all students; however, its impact has been particularly devastating for students of color, students from low-income families, English learners, and other marginalized children and youth. As transmission rates decline and vaccination rates increase in California, many are eager to return to normalcy, but we must all recognize that even the prepandemic normal was not working for all students. The 2021–22 school year, therefore, constitutes a critical opportunity for schools to offer students, families, and educators a restorative restart. This is a moment for...

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California’s school system is under tremendous long-run fiscal pressure; allocating resources efficiently is therefore paramount. Efficient allocation means more money spent on the most effective policies and interventions; less waste; and ultimately better outcomes for students. Economic analysis—making sure districts and schools are spending their budgets wisely—is the method used to identify effectiveness and efficiency. This method responds to the question educational professionals face: Am I making the most efficient decisions given the resources I have and the goals I need to meet for my...
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California is the fifth largest economy in the world and the wealthiest state in the nation. The Golden State is home to countless tech giants, an enormous entertainment industry, major agricultural regions, and many other successful industries. California households earn a median income of $71,000 per year, more than $10,000 above the national average. However, California school funding—even before COVID-19—was insufficient to meet educational goals and address the needs of students, particularly given the state’s high cost of living. How can that be true? Why is education funding so low in...

A Summary Brief
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California and the rest of the country are enduring a pandemic-induced economic recession, and school and district leaders are bracing for the fallout. Funding for California schools had improved rapidly between 2013 and 2019, with districts spending roughly $13,100 per pupil in 2018–19 as compared with $9,680 only 6 years earlier. However, that level of funding still fell short of what would have been adequate given California’s goals as a state, the student population it serves, and its cost of living. According to Levin et al.’s 2018 Getting Down to Facts II study, California would need to...

Views from the 2020 PACE/USC Rossier Poll
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In the run-up to 2020 elections, where do California voters stand on key education policy issues? This report examines findings and trends from the 2020 PACE/USC Rossier poll. Key findings include rising pessimism about California education and elected officials, continued concern about gun violence in schools and college affordability, and negative opinions about higher education. However, there is substantial support for increased spending, especially on teacher salaries.

A Progress Report One Year After Getting Down to Facts II
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The 2018 Getting Down to Facts II research project drew attention to California’s continued need to focus on the achievement gap, strengthen the capacity of educators in support of continuous improvement, and attend to both the adequacy and stability of funding for schools. Based on the nature of the issues and the progress made in 2019, some clear next steps deserve attention as 2020 unfolds.

The Implications of Marin’s Rising Pension Costs and Tax Revolt for Increasing Education Funding
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Marin County school districts have been facing unprecedented pushback when trying to pass parcel taxes. This case study uses district financial and demographic data as well as interviews and focus groups with advocates and district and county leaders to investigate this change. It finds that (1) the current statewide financial situation is not sustainable for districts, (2) districts report feeling a tension between teacher compensation in high-cost Marin and spending in other areas, (3) there is high overall awareness of this issue but limited public awareness of the nuances of district...
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Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) faces a looming deficit and must make significant budget adjustments to avoid state intervention. This case study explores how SCUSD got to this point, how its finances compare with other districts in Sacramento County, and what the implications are for students, particularly those with the greatest needs. It finds that while SCUSD experiences many of the same fiscal pressures as other California districts, it is also unique. As compared with neighboring districts, SCUSD spends far more on health care and a smaller share of its budget on salaries...
Evidence from California
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Charter schools enroll a growing share of public school students, leading to concerns about the financial implications of charter schools for traditional public schools. Using detailed expenditure data for school districts in California, this paper exploits variation in charter school enrollment across time and between districts to evaluate how district spending and overall financial health change as nearby charter sectors expand. The analysis shows that larger charter enrollment shares are associated with lower levels of per-pupil spending and reduced fiscal health in traditional public...
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Researchers in the Getting Down to Facts II project showed that while the financial picture has improved in recent years for California’s school districts, several important challenges remain. This policy brief explores one of these challenges in greater detail: the costs of health and welfare benefits for district employees. In reality, employee health benefit costs pose two distinct challenges for districts. First, the cost of providing benefits to each employee has increased substantially over time. Because districts require employees to pay only a relatively small portion of these annual...

Evidence to Inform Policy
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Governor Newsom’s first Budget Proposal increases funding for education in California. There are areas of substantive overlap in the Budget Proposal and research findings from the Getting Down to Facts II (GDTFII) research project, released in September 2018, which built an evidence base on the current status of California education and implications for paths forward. As the Budget moves from proposal to reality, it is critical that the evidence from GDTFII continues to inform the policy process.

Views from the 2019 PACE/USC Rossier Poll
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With a new governor, state superintendent and legislators in Sacramento and a diminished federal role in education, there is an opportunity for California’s leaders to take stock of recent educational reforms and make necessary improvements. There are also a host of new and looming issues in K-12 and higher education. As California’s leaders confront these and other issues, where do California voters, including parents, stand on education and education policy? The newest edition of the USC Rossier/PACE Poll shares voter perspectives on a wide range of education issues.
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This article examines how district administrators’ conceptions of equity relate to the implementation of finance reform. The authors use sensemaking theory and four views of equity—libertarian, liberal, democratic liberal, and transformative—to guide a case study of two districts, finding evidence of two conceptions of equity: (1) greater resources for students with greater needs, and (2) equal distribution of resources for all students. One district demonstrated an organization-wide belief in the first conception, whereas the other conveyed individual-level understandings of both conceptions...
California’s Current Policies and Funding Levels
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California policymakers have established the expectation that all public school students should have access to a broad course of study, in classes where instruction is consistent with the state’s content standards. Further, the state holds schools and school districts accountable for their ability to ensure that all students achieve at a specified level of academic proficiency, attend school regularly, and graduate from high school prepared for adult success. For decades, many educators charged with these responsibilities have said that California’s state-controlled school funding system fails...

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California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which highlights accountability for student success, has identified the progress of special education students as an area of particular concern. Statewide, the LCFF outcome data show that students with disabilities perform at particularly low levels. Special education addresses the needs of students with disabilities to help them succeed in school. Federal and state laws play a major role in shaping how districts identify and serve students. Federal and state budgets also include significant annual appropriations to help districts pay for...

A 10-Year Perspective
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California’s 6-million-student public school system includes a vast inventory of publicly owned buildings and property. All of these facilities need to be maintained and some need major renovations to ensure health, safety, and educational suitability. Some communities also need new school buildings to house a growing student population. Research suggests students learn better in classrooms that are modern, comfortable, and safe, but the age and condition of school facilities varies widely across the state. According to a recent estimate, California school districts need to spend between $3.1...

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California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), signed into law in 2013, represents a substantial investment in school districts serving disadvantaged students and a modest relaxation of restrictions on district expenditures. The policy came at a time when the state was able to increase K-12 funding, thereby restoring cuts made a few years earlier. Through the LCFF, the state distributed a large portion of those increased funds based on the proportion of disadvantaged students in each school district—those who qualify for free or reduced-price meals, have limited English proficiency, or are...

What Do We Know?
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The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on July 1, 2013, represents the first comprehensive change in the state’s education funding system in 40 years. The LCFF eliminates nearly all categorical funding streams, shifts control of most education dollars from the state to local school districts, and empowers districts, through a process of stakeholder engagement, to shape resource allocation goals and priorities to meet local needs. KEY FINDINGS: What does research reveal about the LCFF after four years of implementation? The LCFF enjoys substantial support...

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In 2014, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 1469, a law that requires teachers and school districts, along with the state government, to substantially increase their respective contributions to the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS). The need for higher pension contributions is not a short-term aberration. Recent CalSTRS projections indicate that the higher rates will be required through 2046, assuming that the system continues to operate as it has and actuarial assumptions are met. The large increases in pension contributions have important implications for...

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The implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula presents local education leaders with the power and flexibility to use resources in new and different ways. Taking full advantage of this opportunity requires leaders to adopt budgeting practices that highlight the tradeoffs among system goals and facilitate the reallocation of scarce resources to support their top priorities. In this brief Mark Murphy reviews the experiences of three California school districts with budget tools that increase their ability to meet their students’ needs. Murphy discusses key lessons from these districts...

How a Research Center Based at USC Rossier, Stanford and UC Davis Is Helping California Forge Its Own Path in Advancing Its Education System
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In May 2016, on the Monday following USC Rossier’s two commencement ceremonies, more than 50 policymakers, philanthropists, and researchers gathered bright and early across the street from the USC campus for a two-day conference. The goal? Hashing out a research agenda that would inform teacher policy in California and beyond. USC Rossier Professors Julie Marsh and Katharine Strunk hosted the convening under the sponsorship of Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE). Founded in 1983, PACE is based at three academic institutions—the USC Rossier School of Education, Stanford University’s...
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Funding, resources, and effective teachers have been inequitably distributed across American schools for decades — contributing to vast opportunity and achievement gaps between high-need students and their more privileged peers.
Time to Reaffirm the Grand Vision
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California ended 40 years of reliance on categorical funding for schools when Governor Jerry Brown signed the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) into law on July 1, 2013. LCFF intends to enhance services for high-needs students through new flexibility, targeted student funding, and local accountability. Two years into LCFF implementation, our research in 18 districts and more than half of the state’s County Offices of Education (COEs) uncovers both reasons for optimism and a few concerns. District officials around the state remain enthusiastic about local control. Many report that the LCFF...