Funk: Will Newsom fix California’s broken public education funding model?
In this Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, photo, California Gov. Gavin Newsom holds his son Dutch while giving his address at his inauguration in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

As Gov. Gavin Newsom begins his first term, early indication shows that he will focus on universal preschool, two years of free community college and increased funding for higher education.

But K-12 public education advocates will be anxious to hear how he addresses K-12 funding with enormous pressure facing school districts across California with budget shortfalls.

Newsom inherits the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) that funds approximately 90 percent of school districts in California.

The LCFF was Gov. Jerry Brown’s centerpiece legislation to eliminate the old 50 categorical education funds under Proposition 98. His goal was to create a more equitable funding model where school districts that fall under the LCFF would receive the same base per-pupil funding and provide additional money to school districts that serve higher populations of English learners, foster youth and students who live in poverty.

There is no question that public education has benefited greatly under the LCFF.  We have received approximately a 23 percent increase in funds over the past seven years.  However, we need to keep in mind that one of the goals of the LCFF was to get school districts back to the funding level of 2007.

The LCFF falls under Proposition 98.

Proposition 98 is an amendment to the California Constitution passed by California voters in 1998. The measure sets a minimum funding guarantee for public schools and community colleges that keeps pace with student enrollment and personal income tax. Current funding under Proposition 98 puts California per-pupil spending at 41st in the nation.

In Gov. Brown’s final budget, he fully funded the LCFF three years ahead of his original goal. Under current law, public education will receive Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) moving forward.

Unfortunately, the projected COLA for the next three years is not expected to cover the annual raises on most districts’ salary schedules or the increased cost to pensions.

School districts are grappling with this potential shortfall and most will be forced to cut programs, electives, specialty classes with low enrollment and student support services such as counselors and social workers. Districts, such as ESUHSD, that have declining enrollment exacerbates this funding shortfall.

California still has a two-tiered funding model.  

There are 1,026 school districts and another 1,228 charter schools. There are approximately 125 school districts that qualify as “basic aid districts.” Many of these basic aid districts are in the San Francisco Bay Area with at least six in Santa Clara County.  

Basic aid districts fund their revenue limit based on property taxes generated within their school district. If the property tax is greater than the funding provided under Proposition 98, then a district is considered a basic aid district.

The benefit of being a basic aid district is that your per-pupil funding can be as much as nine thousand dollars more than a district that falls under Proposition 98.

In fact, we have a district in Santa Clara County that receives approximately $20,000 per pupil where districts under the LCFF receive $11,500 per pupil. For ESUHSD, that would be an annual increase of $195.5 million. Imagine the enrichment programs we could offer to our families and the competitive salaries to our employees.

It is not surprising that basic aid districts are in more affluent areas such as Los Gatos, Palo Alto, Los Altos and Hillsborough. I am not advocating taking away funding from basic aid districts, but we need to increase the base per-pupil funding under Proposition 98 to the same level as the average basic aid district.  

This would increase the per-pupil level in California to a more favorable level nationally.

We cannot continue to have a two-tiered funding model in California if we want to eliminate the opportunity gap and truly close the achievement gap that persists across California and the nation. California needs equitable education communities where all students are welcomed as they are, strengths and areas of growth for all students are known and supported, and adults positively respond to the social-emotional, wellness, and academic needs of each child.

We know what it takes to educate every child in the public school system. We simply need the funding, time and space to do the work. There is no question that we have the will.

Will Gov. Newsom have the will to fully fund public education and eliminate the current two-tired, unequitable funding model?

San José Spotlight columnist Chris Funk is the superintendent of the East Side Union High  School District. His columns appear every third Monday of the month. Contact Chris at [email protected] or follow @chrisfunksupt on Twitter.

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