Awful school funding formula plagues Alameda County

CALIFORNIA’S FISCAL outlook continues to worsen.

Concern is mounting over the impact the state’s budget deficit will have on education funding.

The California Teachers Association (CTA), along with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, claims California’s per-pupil funding now ranks 47th nationally. In reality, most experts agree California is around the middle of the pack when it comes to school funding, including the CTA’s own parent organization, the National Education Association.

But what matters to most California parents isn’t how much other states are spending — it’s the results their children’s school districts are getting compared to other school districts in California.

On that front, California must do better. It’s not because there’s too little funding. It’s because the state’s school financing system is illogical and inequitable.

The California School Finance Center database — a new project from the Pacific Research Institute and the Educational Results Partnership (formerly Just for the Kids-California) that compiles data from a dozen California Department of Education sources — helps shed some much-needed light on this reality.

The data show some troubling discrepancies among similar school districts.

In Alameda County, for instance, a majority of students in both the Fremont Unified district and the Castro Valley Unified district scored proficient in English and math on the California Standards Test in the 2007-08 school year.

Yet Castro Valley, which enrolled a smaller proportion of English learners and low-income students, received $3,400 more per student that year — $13,324, compared to Fremont’s $9,908.

Conventional wisdom suggests that districts with more money perform better — but that’s not always the case.

Alameda City Unified and New Haven Unified had similar socioeconomic profiles and enrolled similar proportions of English learners during the 2007-08 school year. But Alameda outperformed New Haven by nearly 12 percentage points in English and nearly 8 percentage points in math.

Despite the scoring discrepancy, both school districts received about the same funding per student that year — $10,100 for Alameda and $10,196 for New Haven.

Alameda County parents and taxpayers are entitled to wonder why their school districts may be receiving more money but achieving less. So are other Californians.

State and local per-student funding should be higher in districts that enroll children whose educational needs make their schooling costs higher, such as low-income students or English-learners.

Yet on average, state and local funding decreases as the proportions of these students increase. Such funding disparities mean less money for classrooms with the greatest need.

Money does matter when it comes to public school performance, but just as important is how effectively that money is used.

The California School Finance Center database makes it easier to identify which public school districts and charter schools are making the most of their education dollars and emulate their success.
Vicki E. Murray, Ph.D., is associate director of Education Studies at the Pacific Research Institute in Sacramento. The California School Finance Center database developed by PRI and Educational Results Partnership is accessible at

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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