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Is Gov. Brown Right to Dole Out Money to Schools Unequally?

Compare per student funding for unified and high school districts around the region.

This is what California public education looks like after the Great Recession: 

Between 2007 and 2010, the number of teachers in the state's K-12 classrooms shrunk by 11 percent. Reading specialists, librarians, and other school employees helping students learn declined by 14 percent. Front offices took the hardest blow, with the number of administrators dropping by 16 percent. All these cuts hit schools even as the total enrollment held steady at around 6.2 million students. 

Now that California is looking at its first budget without a deficit in five years, Gov. Jerry Brown's budget calls for restoring some money to the state's public schools. But, he does not want to distribute the money equally.

[For differences in revenues between most unified and high school districts in the greater Sacramento region during the 2010-11 school year, see the tables at the top of this article. The data comes from Ed-Data.]

"Aristotle said, 'Treating unequals equally is not justice.' And people are in different situations. Growing up in Compton or Richmond is not like it is to grow up in Los Gatos or Beverly Hills or Piedmont," Brown said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

There are already big differences in the sums school districts get from the state.

Consider two communities Brown mentioned, Piedmont and Richmond. In the 2010-11 school year, Piedmont received $12,287 for every student. The West Contra Costa Unified School District, which includes Richmond, received $9,735 per student.

But only $3,300 of Piedmont’s revenue came from the state. That’s about a third less than the average unified school district gets from Sacramento. Contra Costa Unified School District received $5,600 per student from the state, which is more than the statewide average.

Here’s how Piedmont made up the difference and then some: The $9.1 million that Piedmont raised that school year in parcel taxes was 7,589 percent higher than the statewide average.

Brown’s spending plan has a $3 billion more than last year for K-12 and community colleges, will that be enough to bridge the economic gap that contributes to the achievement gap, and ultimately becomes a cycle-reinforcing income gap? Does more money improve student performance? 

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Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Bob William January 15, 2013 at 04:20 PM
Gov. Brown has his head square up his butt
Tom Waltman January 15, 2013 at 05:36 PM
I guess the state and federal constitutions no longer matter to some people. Money doesn't fix parental involvement. Nothing will change that if the parents don't want the change. Brown doesn't want to face the truth and fight for true justice. The kids deserve his best efforts, and he is failing them.
Roberto January 15, 2013 at 09:25 PM
Moonbeam Brown - California's answer to Robin Hood.
TheRealBigCouchPotato January 16, 2013 at 04:51 AM
I think he has great eyebrows!
Mark Paxson January 16, 2013 at 05:10 AM
Go into schools in the inner city and then go into suburban schools and tell me it's about parental involvement. Yes, parents are a major part of the problem, but compare what those suburban students get at their schools with what goes on in inner-city schools and you realize there's a whole lot more to the dynamic. Why should the community a child lives in within the State of California determine how much money is spent on that child for their education?
M.Legison January 16, 2013 at 06:56 AM
There is no consensus of a linear relationship between student performance and per pupil funding. If there isn't enough evidence in the above chart with a very small sample, consider Los Angeles Unified with per pupil funding of $11,000 and a high school graduation rate of under 65%. One reason the poorer performing districts often show more per pupil funding is because of additional federal funding.
Mark Paxson January 16, 2013 at 02:50 PM
No one said there is a linear relationship between funding and performance, but it's one of the factors. If an elementary school in a suburban district with 300 students gets $2,500 more per student than a comparable elementary school in the inner city, that's $750,000 more money going to the suburban school. Imagine the additional resources that would be available to the inner city school with the money. More computers, more supplies, maybe teacher's aides. Please feel free to explain how that funding difference isn't relevant.
Teresa Savage January 16, 2013 at 04:06 PM
I agree with Mark, but the problem still remains. Are/will they allocate the funds properly? If we can be assurd that it directly enhances the classroom such as computer technology to bring them to the standards of the surrounding communities, I believe it is fair for those living in an economically deprived area. Again, I need to stress, bring them to, not surpass, their surronding communities. I say this because, as a parent who volunteered in schools for over 20 yrs, I have seen even middle class schools lack basic technology that both upper class and economically deprived schools benefit from! It does make a difference in the right hands how it is to be allocted.
patchreader January 16, 2013 at 04:14 PM
Want to know one reason why kids in places like EG have more in their class than other places? Parents are willing to contribute and go without themselves rather than spending on themselves and not caring if their kids suffer. This year alone I've contributed over $200 in classroom supplies to my child's class. Not her, but her class. So her individual supplies are in addition to that amount. To afford that, my family has cut back. Basic things like dry erase markers, glue sticks, paper, erasers, pencils. And your $750k isn't going primarily to resources like books and school supplies. It's going to salaries for district administration. Teacher's aides? We don't have them in Elk Grove. Unless your child is severely special needs (and I mean, severely), the kids are in regular classrooms and attend a "learning center" for an hour, maybe two, a day. The rest of the time they sit there, doing nothing, unless a parent can come in a help, or the teacher isn't instructing the class. Additionally, if an area is willing to pass a tax increase to pass more funds along to their district, the state should not then cut the amount it is passing along to that district. The tax increase was passed to increase funding to the schools, not to allow an additional cut. Brown is punishing districts that pass their own increases by cutting state contributions.
Dan Schmitt January 16, 2013 at 06:12 PM
I support Brown's idea of giving more funds to schools that serve economically deprived students if the money is spent well. Just giving more money to continue doing the same things is a waste. There's a plethora of research out there highlighting reasons why schools succeed and why they fail. Schools that serve kids who come from middle class homes do better. Schools that serve kids who come from two-parent families do better. Schools that serve kids whose parents have some college do better. It's no mystery! This is not an indictment on poor parents, single parents, or parents who did not go to college. It's a cry for help. Additional money should be used to expand pre-school programs like Head Start. Kids who enter kindergarten with the skills necessary to successfully navigate through the early primary grades have a much greater probability of graduating from high school. Kids who enter kindergarten skill deficient have a very difficult time catching up, despite the extra money showered on schools that serve them. Check out Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone. Its "birth through college" approach is very effective. The question is: Do we have the willl to provide the money and time nesessary to implement such a program?
M.Legison January 16, 2013 at 06:19 PM
Throwing money at a poor performing school or district cannot be shown to enhance learning or achievement. A good comparison is LA Unified with $11,000 per pupil and Rocklin with $7,000. Which do you think has better test scores, better graduation rates, better academic achievement over all, Professor Paxson? Patchreader hit on an important reason--for your hypothetical $750,000, about $635,000 would be required to be paid out in salaries. That is law. On the other hand, if a well performing district received those funds, perhaps they could be used to replace pre-college programs that have been eliminated and have shown to be structurally beneficial to student learning. Neither scenario is mutually exclusive of the other, but simply adding per pupil expenditures without specific targets and goals is not net beneficial to the taxpayers.
Mark Paxson January 17, 2013 at 03:53 AM
Patchreader ... imagine what might happen in our schools if we had teachers aides to help teachers. We don't have them? Maybe if we had $2,500 more per student, our schools could afford them.
Mark Paxson January 17, 2013 at 03:55 AM
M. before we go any further on this, please feel free to cite the "law" you believe would require $635,000 of my hypothetical $750,000 to go to salaries. When you can provide that, we'll continue. Until you can, I'd suggest that you're wrong and there's no point in continuing the discussion until that particular issue is resolved.
Reality Check January 17, 2013 at 02:17 PM
back in the 1970's they took me for a ride to the raw milk farm! wtf!?
Reality Check January 17, 2013 at 02:19 PM
it's back scratching, just let it go
Reality Check January 17, 2013 at 02:20 PM
They make money from the figment of their imagination anyway!

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