School Funding Fairness Research Paper

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LCFF Position Statement

School funding structure and allocation is something that is very controversial. It summons discussions and specters of class warfare, the haves vs. The have-not's equity in opportunity, equity in outcomes and many other hot-button topics in the political, cultural and public lexicons. The current school funding structure in the state of California is to be jettisoned in favor of the new Local Control Funding Formula, whereby funding for specific initiatives and goals is gotten rid of in favor of block grants of funds that are based on the situation and conditions of the school district in question. While no single funding structure will ever be perfect, especially for a state like California, treating school systems based on overall tax bases and resources is far better than allowing pet projects in individual districts to get special treatment for specific monies.

Analysis

It has been known and pontificated about for years and decades that some school districts are always and majorly behind the proverbial eight ball in terms of funding and resources due to the vibrant home prices and tax bases of some areas vs. The squalor and destitution of other areas. Such a condition has led to clarion calls and a heaping of vitriol regarding how some school districts are able to leverage to do things and help their children in ways that inner city and otherwise disadvantaged school districts could only dream of and this ignores the fact that private schools are often (but not always) a refuge for the children and parents of the rich and never the poor and downtrodden (CDE, 2014).

This is perhaps the goal, at least in part, behind the emergence of the Local Control Funding Formula whereby customization and pet projects are discarded as specific concerns in favor of a gross amount of dollars that is not designed for any too specific but is meant to cover all the needs of a given district. However, the Local Control Funding Formula does not throw out the baby with the proverbial bath water as the funding for a new year is based at least in part on what happened the prior year, sort of a baseline budget if you will. Indeed, the prior year should be the starting point for the current year but any changes that would affect the monetary needs of the school system in question including change in staffing level, change in student number and other needs would obviously need to be taken into account (CDE, 2014).

That all being said, just because "x" funding was done last year does not mean that that is the bare minimum for the new year because if the staff or student count has fallen, much as it has in areas like Chicago and Detroit, then the amount of money that the applicable district should get should almost certainly fall and that presumes that no school closings should or might need to happen, also as has happened or has been discussed in Chicago and Detroit (Tribune, 2014). Indeed, people fleeing the urban and high-crime areas for the suburbs and rural areas is something that has to be accounted for and would no doubt possibly an issue in areas like Los Angeles and other urban areas in California (CDE, 2014).

In addition, the complex formula for the Local Control Funding Formula should not be complex just for the sake of being complex, but areas that can and should support their own pet projects and shiny new buildings should be made to self-finance those projects and should not foist their discretionary projects and tasks on the state funding pool unless all districts are getting the same chances and changes, which is unlikely when speaking of larger and richer districts. Even so, punishing richer districts just because they are rich is not fair either but the ability to self-finance and the tax base in question should absolutely be part of the Local Control Funding Formula calculus in determining which school districts get what money and that is most certainly happening in the LCFF structure, as it should (CDE, 2014).

One thing that will not be flexing with this change, and this is a good thing, is that funding for Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations and structures will not be going down, only remaining flat or going up depending on established need, and this is as it should be. Another big plus to the funding structure is that there will be a bit of a cushion for economic uncertainties. This is wise because, as was proven by the Great Recession, uncertainties can kill a property tax base in nothing flat as the taxes collected would tend to go down when home prices fall and this can affect rich and poor districts alike both in terms of ability to meet property tax obligations as well the taxes that will be collectible in the first place given that the cities and counties will have a hard time collecting the same amount of money as prior years when the property and/or structures are worth less (if not much less) than they were before (CDE, 2014).

If there is one downside to the Local Control Funding Formula, it forced budgets that were probably already scrutinized and approved for 2013-2014 to be re-hashed and approved again to meet the revised guidelines and this should be avoided. It is true that this probably would have happened to some degree no matter what, doing any sort of regulation that forces cost onto the regulated entity on a retroactive basis is unwise and this is especially true when speaking of agencies and entities that subsist in whole or in part on taxpayer dollars. Imposing a tax increase for 2012 in September 2012 and doing it retro to 1/1/2012 is not fair nor is requiring a revamp of a 2013-2014 budget in August 2013 because the budget was likely figured out long before that. However, there are instances and situations where this is unavoidable but this was probably not one of them. Planning for the future, rather than make people revisit the past unnecessarily, is not a good idea and this is true irrespective of whether public or private organizations are in question but wasting taxpayer dollars when it's not needed is the worst example of this. That being said, the change really was needed so it really could have been worse.

There are some other concerns that the Local Control Funding Formula should not take lightly. First, playing into class warfare and "sticking it" to the rich in the name of being a populist and/or "voice for the voiceless" is less than wise because it feeds the divisive and demagogic nature of politics. Equity in funding is a noble goal but using buzzwords and harsh invective that pits people against each other unnecessarily is not productive or ethically defendable (CalWatchdog, 2013). Also, the word "fair" can be contorted and manipulated to the nth degree and that should not happen either. The baseline amount that is needed to have a district fully function and be productive should be established and everything possible should be done to ensure that this is done all of the time if possible. It is pretty much a given that richer districts will get much less state funding than poorer districts but all districts should get the same overall shake given the tax and funding resources that are available.

Finally, the aforementioned use of baseline budgeting really needs to be taken to heart. Using the prior year amount alone should not be the way that funding is determined for the new calendar year if the playing field has changed. The also prior-mentioned school closings and benefit structures of teachers have been debated a lot because many say that pension costs for schools are…[continue]

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