Newsom proposes $127 billion in total funding for education. Yet, his spending proposals contain no goals on improving student outcomes.
For example, Newsom is proposing $13 billion to address learning loss among students and promote learning recovery.
There is no question that California’s ineffective education policies during the COVID-19 pandemic caused student learning to plunge from already low levels prior to the pandemic.
In 2019, only about three in 10 California eighth graders scored at or above the proficient level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress math exam. By 2022, the proportion of eighth graders testing proficient had nosedived to less than one in four.
Results on California’s own state math exam showed a similar decline in students not meeting state grade-level math standards over that same time period.
Yet, in Newsom’s proposal to fund learning recovery, there is no measure of success or goal for student outcomes. How will Californians know if that $13 billion he wants to spend is paying off? What student proficiency targets should the state hit in two years or five years?
If one in four eighth graders are proficient in math today, then should one in two eighth graders be proficient in math in five years after spending billions of tax dollars to help them recover lost learning?
Newsom’s budget proposals contain no such student outcome measurements and targets. Instead, his proposals are all about inputs—more funding—and rhetorical assurances.
For instance, the governor’s budget summary document claims that his education proposals will fund “investments that are critical to improving instruction and support students, including funding for community schools, universal school meals, expanded learning opportunities, and continued implementation of universal transitional kindergarten.” Yet, if these investments improve instruction, then where is the measurement gauge that will demonstrate that these expenditures actually do what is claimed? Answer: there is no gauge.
Thus, for all the spending, Californians will never know if they received any bang for their taxpayer buck.
A.J. Crabill, a former Texas deputy education commissioner and one of the nation’s top experts on improving the performance of school boards, has emphasized the importance of laying out concrete student outcome goals.
Although he directs his recommendations to school boards, state officials like Governor Newsom could learn a lot from his advice.
Crabill advocates “progress monitoring,” which gives “the opportunity to evaluate the alignment between the community’s vision (goals towards student outcomes) and the school district’s reality (current student performance/growth).”
He says: “While student outcome goals and current student performance may not match perfectly, it only becomes problematic when there is no evidence of student growth and progress. And even if students aren’t yet growing and making progress, that’s only catastrophic if the superintendent doesn’t have sufficiently aggressive strategies in place for increasing growth and helping students make progress.”
Crabill’s bottom line: “These are the fundamental concerns of monitoring: 1) does reality match the vision, 2) is there growth toward the vision, and 3) is there a strategy and plan sufficient to cause growth toward the vision?”
Critically, program details “are explicitly framed within relationship to student outcomes” and “outcome data is described in an accessible and observable manner.”
None of these things are apparent in Newsom’s proposals: there is no student outcome vision, no plan for growth toward outcome goals, and no discussion as to how proposals will impact student outcomes and how those outcomes could be measured using data.
Besides lacking student outcome targets and goals, Newsom’s budget proposals fail to offer students a way out of a public education system that is clearly failing many of them.
States across the country are enacting universal school choice programs that allow all children to access education options that best meet their needs.
For example, in 2022, then-Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed historic legislation to give every child in his state access to Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.
According to the school-choice research organization EdChoice, Arizona’s program “allows parents to opt their children out of public, district, or charter schools and receive a portion of their public funding deposited into an account for defined, but multiple uses, including private school tuition, online education, education therapies, private tutoring, or future educational expenses.”
All K-12 students, plus pre-K students with disabilities, are eligible to receive the Arizona ESA, with the ESAs “funded at 90 percent of the state’s per-pupil base funding.” The typical ESA student received about $7,000 in 2022-23.
As EdChoice noted when Ducey signed the ESA bill: “Families have faced daunting challenges and students have experienced dramatic learning losses. With this passage, Arizona has the opportunity to meet the moment, recognizing that access to more educational options is more important than ever.”
Thus, unlike California where students have faced massive learning losses but continue to be stuck in the public school system that produced those losses, Arizona gave students in the public schools an exit ticket if their schools were not meeting their needs.
This week is National School Choice Week, so it is a perfect time for Californians to tell lawmakers that too many students are being failed by the state’s public education system; that Sacramento needs to focus on student outcomes and not just funding inputs; and that California families deserve the chance to take advantage of the education options available to families in other states.
Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute.