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California’s School Funding Formula Has Made District-Level Funding More Equitable, but Gains at the Student Level Are Smaller

HIGH-NEED DISTRICTS ARE REDUCING PUPIL-TEACHER RATIOS MORE THAN LOWER-NEED DISTRICTS, BUT ARE MORE LIKELY TO RELY ON LESS-EXPERIENCED TEACHERS

SAN FRANCISCO, August 7, 2019—Six years after state policymakers enacted the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) for California’s K–12 public schools, significant additional resources are going to high-need districts, as intended. However, targeting high-need students remains a challenge, and high-need districts and schools increasingly rely on less-experienced teachers.

These are among the key findings of a report released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Due in part to economic growth boosting overall state revenues, state K–12 spending has increased across all school districts since 2012–13, the year before the LCFF went into effect. But student spending rose more in high-need districts than in lower-need districts—an estimated $500 more per student. Among lower-need school districts—those with student populations that are no more than 30 percent high need—student spending increased $2,043 per pupil on average between 2012–13 and 2017–18. Meanwhile, among high-need districts—those with student populations that are at least 55 percent high need—student spending increased by $2,573 per pupil, on average. Under the LCFF, high-need students are those who are low income, English Learners, homeless, and/or foster youth.

While the LCFF has boosted funding for high-need districts, it appears to be faring less well in terms of directing resources to high-need students. This is partly because many high-need students live in higher-income districts, which by design are less targeted for LCFF resources. Between 2012–13 and 2017–18, per pupil student spending in the district of the typical high-need student in California increased by only $350 relative to that of the typical non-high-need student.

“The Local Control Funding Formula so far represents progress in that it has put more dollars into high-need school districts, and not at the expense of other districts,” said Julien Lafortune, PPIC research fellow and author of the report. “But there appears to be more work to do in terms of ensuring that we’re properly directing resources to high-need students.”

The report also looks at staffing differences across schools within the same district in order to further examine how resources are being directed under the LCFF. Districts with large economic gaps among schools spend somewhat more on teachers in schools with larger shares of high-need students; this pattern predates the LCFF. While these high-poverty schools have more teachers—and, in turn, lower pupil-teacher ratios—than wealthier schools, they are more likely to rely on less-experienced teachers.

For example, for districts in which the wealthiest one-quarter of schools have poverty levels that are 50 percent lower on average than the poorest one-quarter of schools, the average teacher in the highest-poverty schools has approximately two fewer years of experience and is paid almost $2,000 less annually than the average teacher in the lowest-poverty schools. At the same time, the highest-poverty schools have smaller class sizes than the lowest-poverty schools, with two fewer students per teacher on average.

At the district level, the report finds that while pupil-teacher ratios declined more in high-need districts than in lower-need districts between 2012–13 and 2017–18, the share of novice teachers increased more in high-need districts than in lower-need districts during this period. (As indicated above, high-need districts are those with student populations that are at least 55 percent high need, while lower-need districts are those with student populations that are no more than 30 percent high need.)

“Hiring less-experienced teachers represents an understandable trade-off for districts and for individual schools,” Lafortune said. “These teachers’ lower salaries mean that you can put more teachers in the classroom. But greater reliance on novice teachers may mean that it takes longer to improve outcomes for high-need students, which ultimately is a key gauge of the LCFF’s success.”

PPIC’s report provides a number of recommendations for policymakers, educators, and other stakeholders. State officials could pursue policies that help address teacher shortages and provide funding and incentives that assist districts in hiring and retaining more qualified teachers at high-need schools. In addition, the effects of the LCFF could be better understood through improved data collection—perhaps drawing on new school-level spending data required under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Regular monitoring of new data could show how districts are faring under the LCFF.

The report, School Resources and the Local Control Funding Formula: Is Increased Spending Reaching High-Need Students?, is supported with funding from the Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation and the Stuart Foundation.

About PPIC

The Public Policy Institute of California is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research. We are a public charity. We do not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor do we endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Research publications reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of our funders or of the staff, officers, advisory councils, or board of directors of the Public Policy Institute of California.

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