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Learning Curves

Taking the Measure of California’s School Funding Formula

Six years after Jerry Brown reformed school funding, low-income districts still struggle to draw experienced teachers.

Bill Raden

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Photo: Sydney Bourne

Findings from the first statewide study on California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) are in, and the news is both good and not-so-good. The 2013 brainchild of then-governor Jerry Brown and State Board of Ed president Michael Kirst, the landmark equity and accountability measure was designed to steer more of the state’s notoriously inadequate public education funding to children most in need — English learners, homeless and foster care youth and low-income students — in the state’s highest-need districts. And according to the report by Public Policy Institute of California researcher Julien Lafortune, that’s exactly what LCFF did. Sort of.


Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


Between 2012–13, the year before LCFF was adopted, and 2017-18, the highest-need districts spent roughly $270 more per student on pupil services. Districts with under 55 percent high-needs enrollments saw an average increase of roughly $180 per student. The additional dollars went to classroom resources, adding counselors, librarians and teacher aides while reducing class sizes. The caveat? Over the same period, districts and schools with the fewest low-income students hired more experienced teachers and at higher pay — “virtually the same [as] before the LCFF,” Lafortune told EdSource. Blame California’s teacher shortage crisis, aggravated by a stingy per-pupil funding over $9,000 less than New York State’s.

The Trump Administration on Monday dramatically escalated its cruelty offensive against prospective residents the president deems as undesirable by publishing new criteria that could deny green cards to legal immigrants that have exercised their rights to public assistance. The 837-page “public charge” rule, reportedly a top priority of Trump immigration advisor Stephen Miller, is set to take effect on Oct. 15. By targeting recipients of safety net benefits like food stamps, Section 8 housing vouchers or Medicaid, and establishing exceptions based on wealth, education, age and English-language skills, the change is expected to dramatically cut family-based legal immigration from low-income countries in Latin America and Africa.

In 27 percent foreign-born California, the effects of the Trump rule is expected to weigh hard on children’s learning by forcing low-income families to choose the security of permanent residency over vital health, nutrition and other public supports. And that puts the Trump changes at odds with the goals of Governor Gavin Newsom’s ambitious early ed initiative. They are also expected to have a chilling effect on the willingness of international students and scholars to study at California’s research universities on nonimmigrant visas. For immigrant college students, however, public charge represents a disaster. “We believe the proposed regulations will have damaging consequences, affecting students, families, and campuses across the nation,” the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration and the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education grimly predicted when the rules were first proposed.

Which may explain why on Tuesday, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties became the first in the nation to push back against the xenophobic barriers in federal court. Filing for a temporary injunction, the counties allege that the expected drop in noncitizens using public services will “increase risks to the public health” by undermining “critical public health and safety-net systems.” The plaintiffs also argue that the administration is usurping lawmakers’ authority by administratively repealing Congress’ “longstanding family-based immigration system.” Santa Clara and San Francisco, which already successfully sued Trump for attempting to defund “sanctuary cities” that refused to enforce federal immigration laws, won’t be going alone this time, according to The Hill. Also on deck with separate court challenges are the National Immigration Law Center, New York Attorney General Letitia James and Golden State AG Xavier Becerra.

But the attack on immigrants isn’t the only trick that the Donald has up his sleeve to rally the base for the 2020 election. Politico reports that Trump’s support for “Project Blitz,” a campaign by Christian nationalists that includes a roster of boilerplate model laws promoting religion in public schools — like the teaching of Bible literacy classes and the display of “In God We Trust” — has fueled momentum in state houses for Blitz’s agenda. The problem? The Blitz bills too often bulldoze through the constitutional wall separating church from state. A 2006 study by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund of public school Bible literacy classes in Texas concluded that the vast majority of the courses had little academic rigor, were “explicitly devotional in nature,” and advocated a fundamentalist ideological perspective “hostile to religious freedom, science and public education itself.” Blitz laws, warns the advocacy coalition Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), represent a slippery legal slope that could one day permit religion to be used to justify discrimination.


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