Weighted Student Formula

The Education Coalition and the Association of California School Administrators have done a laudable job outlining their opposition and concerns, respectively, to the Governor’s proposed 2012-13 education budget which would radically change the way schools are funded in California. As the Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools, I not only echo their sentiments, but also challenge the many assumptions that accompany this seismic shift in school funding.

Over the past fifty years, categorical programs have been created by legislators to serve the special needs of students that are not covered by the general fund regular education program budget. Each categorical program comes with its own program intent, rules, regulations, accountability and exemplary practices. Although this modus operandi may not have been perfect, it did give emphasis to the need to address the inequities in our California school system on multiple levels. The proposed Weighted Student Formula would use only two criteria to fund school districts beyond the base revenue limit: low-income (free and reduced meal qualification) and English learners. Unlike categorical programs that mandate districts spend those categorical dollars as outlined by law, there would be no such assurances with this new model. The Weighted Student Formula model could indeed hurt the very students that it purports to help.

The 2008-09 Budget Act changed the way categorical funding was handled in the State of California; programs were divided into three Tiers with the majority of dollars being flexible for a school district. The major casualty of this change was Adult Education. Many of the other categorical programs have remained intact because school leaders have recognized their value.

Of the nearly fifty categorical programs, many operate on a regional basis; therefore, replicating them under a new funding model would be nearly impossible for most school districts. Programs in this category include, but are not limited to: Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID), Foster Youth, Partnership Academies, Teacher Credentialing (BTSA), Cal-SAFE (teenage mothers), Education Technology, Professional Development Institutes for Math and English, Arts and Music, School Safety, Gifted and Talented Education (GATE), Regional Occupation Centers/Programs (ROC/P), Principal Training and support, Civics Education, and many more. The efficacy of many of these programs is backed by research and data. A quality teacher induction model has demonstrated teacher effectiveness and retention; the Harvard “Pathways to Prosperity” study notes the importance of multiple pathways for young people to navigate the journey from adolescence to adulthood; and 90% of all AVID 2011 graduates completed the UC/CSU “a-g” course requirements, which is 2.5 times greater than the completion rate of 36% for the state overall. In addition, in 2011, 89% of Hispanic and African American AVID graduates completed their UC/CSU requirements.

By their own admission, the architects of the Weighted Student Formula Model acknowledge that reforming school finance system is not the complete solution to improving student achievement; changes in governance, incentives and accountability are also required. As such, why would we want to move forward without the other pieces to this complex puzzle in place? It really doesn’t make sense. And, although some districts will receive more in Average Daily Attendance revenue, there will be no real winners and the likely losers will be the students of California. If we are to move forward with school reform, let us do it thoughtfully, with all stakeholder input and address all of the key issues.

Michael C. Watkins
County Superintendent of Schools
Santa Cruz County Office of Education