Sunday, March 21, 2004


California School Finance 101

Last Thursday March 18th I Attended the 27th Annual
EdSource Conference in Manhattan Beach, the subject
was Overhauling California’s School Finance

Before the conference there was a forty-five minute
pre-conference California School Finance 101. My
congrats to EdSource Deputy Director Mary Perry for
an excellent and concise explanation of an arcane
Byzantine process and its historic perspective. I
suggest this presentation be made as a program to all
PTAs, parent groups, Boards of Education and
interested citizens, taxpayers and voters groups. School Finance: Resources at a Glance

At the very outset of the main program of the
EdSource conference, moderator Gerald Hayward
posed the day’s most interesting questions:

• Are we meeting current needs?
• Are we increasing or reducing expectations?
• Have we raised or lowered our standards?
• Are we seeking solutions for the future ...or for
the meantime?

And ultimately:

• How do you hold teachers, principals, schools and
school districts acceptable when the real decision
making occurs elsewhere?

Mr. Hayward kept a self-deprecating running joke
going throughout the day re: injecting word-of-the-day words into the discussion to create the impression of one’s intellectual gravitas. His contributions – frequently used to everyone’s amusement were: “Herculean” (‘Budget Reform is a Herculean task ...or is it an Herculean task?’) and “Ebullient” (‘So-and-so is an ebullient speaker’) My contributions to this list are “Byzantine” and “gravitas” — I’ve done it early and I’m done!

After a brief clip from “First to Worst’, the PBS
documentary critical of California School Finance post
Prop 13, program led off with keynote speaker
Lawrence Picus, a USC professor of education active in education finance reform in a number of states like
Montana and Arkansas.

Doctor Picus said the key question that must be asked
of every one of California’s nearly 1000 school boards
and superintendents is: “Do you have a long term
strategic execution plan to address the needs of your

The universal answer will be nearly 1000 “No’s” It’s
just too hard. Budgets figures are too nebulous. Too many variables. Change is too constant. The law only calls for one year’s budget at a time. Excuses, excuses,

smf note: I have been asking for this in LAUSD at the school board and in these pages for some time now – ever since I witnessed the difference a strategic execution plan has made in school construction.

Picus argues that :
• school finance reform in California is long overdue,
• that previous models of school reform that fail to
address finance are flawed
• and that the newer models he has championed that
reform school finance and education have applicability in California.

He was followed by Economist Jon Sonstelie, who
didn’t refute the need, but argued that there just isn’t
enough data to prove that the input of money alone
will make enough difference in California Schools –
and that certainly no source of such money has been
identified. . Questions and answers followed, the debate was lively.

Following this we heard from a panel consisting of former Executive Director of the State Board of Education (and LAUSD Budget Consultant) John Mockler, Sacramento Bee editor and education critic Peter Schrag, UCLA Professor Jeannie Oakes, and Stanford Professor Mike Kirst – on Where Do We Go From Here?

There was agreement that change is needed and that school finance reform is key, but there was also agreement that money alone is simply not enough.
The legislature has been reforming schools with varying success through standards and accountability – throwing law, regulations, incentives and mandates at the problems ...but every quick-fix attempt at finance
reform only adds to the serpent’s nest of complications. One only needs to look at the inflexible 20:1 requirement in class size reduction in K-3!

But the current bipartisan consensus in Sacramento to
“suspend” Prop 98 (The so-called constitutional
guarantee of school funding at current levels) and cut the education budget by two billion dollars in 2004-05
will be disastrous – especially following the previous
three years of economic chaos in education. Mockler
stated unequivocally that this cut — if approved by the
legislature and signed by the governor (both de-facto
‘done deals’) — proves a lack of political will to
support California Schools. Both the immediate result
and the long-term impact on California’s future will be
grim indeed. Peter Schrag argued further that it may
take this bleak result – coupled with a decision against
the state in the Williams v. California lawsuit
(contending that the state is not delivering an adequate
education to the states’ underprivileged students) – to
trigger the disaster mentality necessary get anything
accomplished in Sacramento!

Blowing the whole thing up and starting anew seemed
to be the most popular proposed solution!

Much of the day’s discussion revolved around a
funding mechanism called Weighted Student Formula
(WSF). This would require first that the annual cost of
a sound basic education to an individual child (SBA)
be established, this might be modified with a Grade
Level adjustment (GLA - it costs more to educate a
5th grader than a kindergartner, more still for an 11th
grader) and would be further modified by special needs
factors such as whether the student is an English
Language Learner (x), is in Special Ed (y), gifted (y)
or has other special needs (z). This would create an
algebraic formula [WSF=SBA+AGL+a+b+c) to
establish the amount the state would pay to educate
that individual student. This WSF allocation would
follow the child no matter where he or she goes to
school and would replace the current ADA (Average
Daily Attendance) allocations as the key to funding
schools. As one of the speakers said, “the algebra is
easy, the politics is hard” in WSF. I can also see a
potential for lots of appeals and annual review much
like the Individual Education Plan (IEP) process in
Special Ed This attempt at simplification could quickly
complicate matters further. It would be an everyone’s
interest (student, parent, school and district) to run up
the numbers - there is potential for abuse. This
weighting could also lead to favoritism of students in
enrollment: Would a principal rather have (or keep) an
average kid at his or her school — or an English
language learning, dyslexic, mobility-challenged gifted

Further speakers spoke to the Williams’ lawsuit, the
ongoing program in school reform and funding in New
York State, and to the anticipated Reiner-CTA
Initiative on the November ballot.

• The Reiner-CTA Referendum is nothing more than
“tinkering towards Utopia” reform.
• The Williams’ litigation is currently recessed, the
new administration is Sacramento is studying it’s
options. Williams’ basic contention that the state
has a constitutional obligation to educate every
child to a minimum standard (“an adequate public
education”/in the similar New York lawsuit “a
sound basic education”) without regard to race,
ethnicity or economic circumstance is irrefutable;
that there is inequity in the current system is
similarly obvious. The state counters that the
school districts bare the obligation; this seems hard
to justify in an environment where the state
controls the funding. It would be much better for
all if our political leaders settled Williams and
corrected its issues before it is decided in the
courts; not with a consent decree, but with genuine
• The case of education reform in New York is an
interesting parallel. New York and New York City
– as opposed to Montana and Arkansas or even
Texas and Florida – have problems most like
California and LA.

But similar isn’t the same!

• New York’s school governance is different and the
tax laws are completely different.
• New York hasn’t had the experience of Serrano
and Prop 13. Resources for the EdSource 2004 Forum on Public Schools


My opinions, and these are admittedly both currently
unformed and uninformed — and subject to change
— are these:

• We shouldn’t reform schools or school finance in
reaction to disaster! We – and that’s the big parents- teachers-community-policy makers and politicians ‘we’ – need to be proactive, not reactive!
• Court ordered reform – in the middle school
vernacular (I am a middle school parent!): Sucks!

Note: Elementary kids say bad stuff is “unfair.”
Next year I will be high school parent and will select a word from the API word-study list – next year I will say: “Court ordered reform is ‘intrinsically inequitable!’”

• Court orders (and their evil stepchildren consent decrees) are mandates; fiats not subject to debate and public opinion – decisions not democratically arrived at. They are one-size-fits-all/carved-in-stone solutions and all the wiggle room for creative solutions are also called
• The Reiner-CTA reform is a another small step, special interests (in this case the teacher’s union and early education supporters) pushing the inert mass slightly in the direction of their choice – a result that produces no genuine. progress. Love the teachers, love the teacher’s union, love Rob, love universal pre-school — but real education reform needs to address the entire big enchilada: K-12 School Finance in California.

These questions need answering:
• How much difference can money make?
• How much money is enough?
• Where will it come from?
• Who is ultimately in charge of collecting/allocating/ distributing and overseeing the money?
....and what is the role of:
• The Legislature
• The Governor
• The State Board of Ed
• The State Office of Ed
• The County Office of Ed?
• Local Boards of Education?
• The Superintendent?
• The Principal and the School Site Council?
• Parents, Classroom Teachers and Students?


The conference was addressed last by Education
Secretary Richard Riordan.

Unfortunately Secretary Riordan was a hit-and-run
speaker who hadn’t been there for previous debate and
didn’t really address the conference’s subject of
finance reform. I am a fan of his, but the conference
really didn’t want to hear about accountability reform
and the role of principals in the school – they wanted
to hear about the money!


Probably the most interesting presentation was by
Jeannie Oakes, who refuted popular opinion (...and
the thesis of “First to Worst”) that California’s
education woes trace from the Serrano decision (1968,
equalizing school expenditures across all school
districts in the state) and Prop 13 (1978, limiting
property tax and putting the state in charge of all
education finance).

Dr. Oakes traces the decline all the way back to
popular reaction to Brown v. School Board (1953 –
desegregating all schools) and a subsequent federal
lawsuit that desegregated schools and redistributed
school finances in Detroit. It was widespread popular
backlash to these not-universally-popular court
decisions which limited local control of education
(remember what I said about court decisions?) that led
voters to began limiting school expenditures. The
voters and taxpayers in the middle years of the
twentieth century were not all that interested in paying
for the education of – and I quote: “Other people’s
children’! California per-pupil spending had already
lowered drastically before Serrano in ‘68 – it may have
been this very decrease that actually drove Serrano!

[LINK] - Office of the California Secretary for Education


We have nowhere to go but forward; we have nothing to do but improve. There is no time like the present —with crisis looming and the wolf at the door..

• The role of the federal government must be explored.
• The role of all the other players must be explored.
• Revenue sources beyond property taxes must be
• A sales tax on services?
• A value added tax, where the profits on any transaction is taxed?
• Prop 13 revisions eliminating corporate loopholes – such as those proposed in Reiner-CTA - must be on the table.
• Entitlements and categorical programs must be streamlined.
• Adequacy must be defined. What exactly is an adequate public education?
• Equity must be attained, but an equalizing up, not down.

* * * *

We started out with the Herculean Task, let's end with
the Apollonian Goal.

Though adequacy in funding must be guaranteed,
excellence in achievement must always be the goal.
This may seem a little like Garrison Keillor’s ironic utopia of Lake Woebegone – ‘...where all of the children are above average’ – but we have already set the bar extremely high in expecting all schools to achieve API 800, a goal 70% above the national norm!
The Greeks of the Golden Age – the ones that invented western civilization – created the goal of perfection..The ideal is the model; a goal that is by its very nature unobtainable. But it is a prize that we can visualize, just over the horizon! Nothing less can be acceptable.

ED-DATA—Education Data Partnership: Clearinghouse for Fiscal, Demographic & Performance Data on California Schools—by state, county, district & school

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
• Monday Mar 22, 2004
South Region High School #4
Phase II Site Selection Update – Meeting #2
Local District K

Your participation is important! Please join at this meeting where we will review:

* Criteria used to select potential sites
* Sites suggested by community and by LAUSD, and
* We will present and discuss the most suitable site(s) for this new school project

6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Broadacres Avenue Elementary School
19424 S. Broadacres Avenue
Carson, CA 90746

Community Organizer: Tony Arias

• Tuesday Mar 23, 2004
Central Region Elementary School #18
Phase II Site Selection Update – Meeting #2
Local District H

Your participation is important! Please join at this meeting where we will review:

* Criteria used to select potential sites
* Sites suggested by community and by LAUSD, and
* We will present and discuss the most suitable site(s) for this new school project

6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
28th Street Elementary School
2807 Stanford Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90011

Community Organizer: Fortunato Tapia

• Wednesday Mar 24, 2004
South Region Elementary School #4
Phase II Site Selection Kick-off Meeting
Local District J

All community residents, parents, students, teachers -- Be part of identifying and selecting sites for this new community school!

6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
South Gate High School
4100 Firestone Blvd.
South Gate, CA 90280

Community Organizer: Mario Hernandez

• Thursday, Mar 25, 2004
The Los Angeles Unified School District Bond Oversight Committee wants to hear from LAUSD Parents, School Neighbors and Community Members about Your Questions, Concerns, and Suggestions Regarding Modernization of Existing Schools and Construction of New Schools in LAUSD Local District J (Bell, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Maywood, South Gate and Vernon)

Thursday, March 25th, 6-8PM
Huntington Park Family Center
3355 Gage Avenue
Huntington Park

For information about the meeting time, site and scope:
Phone: 213.241.4700
Fax: 213.241.6823

*Dates and times subject to change.
Phone: 212.241.4700
Phone: 213.633.7616