Why California Should Retire the Free or Reduced-Price Meal Measure—and What the State Should Do Next

Commentary authors
Michelle Spiegel
Thurston Domina
Andrew Penner
Summary

In 2013–14, California enacted an ambitious—and essential—reform to improve educational equity by directing state resources to districts and schools that educate large numbers of economically disadvantaged students. The reform is called the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF); it allocates funding to school districts based on student characteristics such as socioeconomic status and provides greater flexibility to use the allocated funds than the previous school funding formula allowed. In addition to the LCFF, which is based on average daily attendance (ADA), districts receive funds based on the proportion of students they serve who are English learners, income eligible for free or reduced-price meals, and foster youth. The equity multiplier, a new policy passed in 2023, is designed to provide even more funding for disadvantaged students.

To Keep Students Safe and Learning, California Needs Strong State Leadership

Summary

In preparing for the next school year, California state policymakers must set clear statewide expectations for teaching, learning, and student support, regardless of whether instruction is online or in person. This spring, local school districts scrambled to adapt to COVID-19 with a wide range of responses largely focused on securing delivery of online resources. Now is the time to shift the conversation back to the core purpose of school: learning. The state should establish a minimum amount of instructional time; create an instrument of diagnostic assessment and require its use; adopt instructional continuity plans; and advocate for and secure additional funding.

COVID-19’s Impact on English Learner Students

Possible Policy Responses
Commentary author
Summary

English learners (ELs) face diverse challenges during the pandemic, with varied educational needs and health concerns. The forthcoming academic year will likely amplify the academic gap between EL and non-EL students due to limited access to distance learning. To address this, several policy recommendations are proposed. Universal basic income, health care, and tech access are vital for EL families, especially for those in low-income or undocumented situations. Distance learning must cater to ELs by providing devices, multilingual content, and non-tech learning options. Improved communication with EL families and leveraging their cultural assets are crucial. Extending learning time for ELs, promoting collaboration among teachers, and hiring bilingual family members as aides or tutors are recommended. Assessing returning students' academic status and monitoring funds allocated for ELs' needs are vital. These policy suggestions aim to address EL education challenges amidst the pandemic, stressing equity, resources, and inclusivity in education.

Understanding, Measuring, and Addressing Student Learning Needs During COVID-19 Recovery

Commentary author
Summary

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, PACE Executive Director Heather Hough offers an approach involving multiple phases, transitioning from immediate action to re-entry and eventual recovery. The closure of schools due to the pandemic is expected to result in substantial learning loss, especially among disadvantaged students, necessitating a comprehensive assessment of their academic and emotional needs upon their return to school. This crisis has highlighted disparities in distance learning and accentuated existing inequalities, making it imperative to address diverse impacts and support students effectively. To address these challenges, proposing a state-level diagnostic assessment using existing resources like SBAC emerges as a unified and cost-effective means to identify learning gaps and guide resource allocation. The upcoming school term brings uncertainty, demanding clear guidelines, adaptability, and adequate resources for schools to embrace novel learning models. Immediate measures include safeguarding education funding, urging federal support, and targeting assistance for vulnerable students. Additionally, there is an opportunity to overhaul California's funding system to better reflect the critical importance of public education. This commentary is modified from testimony delivered to the California Assembly Budget Committee on April 28, 2020.

Our Children’s Education Should be a Priority as California Recovers from Coronavirus

Commentary author
Summary

PACE Executive Director Heather Hough cautions that COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted California's education system, highlighting the state's low funding and the substantial financial shortfall necessary to meet educational objectives. Recent research indicates a need for an additional $26.5 billion annually in K–12 education to reach state achievement goals. Decades of underinvestment have left districts financially vulnerable, compounded by the economic challenges triggered by the crisis. The dependence on personal earnings for school funding could result in severe cuts, impacting critical student services and potentially leading to layoffs. School closures have underscored their role beyond education, serving as community hubs crucial for student well-being, safety, and essential services. The pandemic exacerbates existing inequalities in learning opportunities among California students. The urgent call is to recognize schools as central to communities and the state's well-being, emphasizing the necessity for significant post-crisis investments in public education as a priority for California's recovery.

Evidence to Inform Recovery

PACE’s Response to COVID-19
Summary

COVID-19's closure of California's educational institutions has profoundly impacted learning, equity, and access. Efforts now concentrate on remote learning support, essential non-instructional services, and aiding students with special needs. PACE seeks to bolster these initiatives, gather best practices, and provide real-time research for informed decision-making. Anticipating challenges upon students' return, especially those facing trauma, PACE plans to focus on data collection, student support, system capacity, and resource allocation. This includes addressing learning loss, supporting vulnerable populations, fostering engagement, integrating services across agencies, and seeking adequate funding amid economic strains. PACE intends to employ diverse approaches—reviewing existing research, collecting new data, testing innovations, and analyzing policy options—to aid educators, policymakers, and the public in navigating this crisis and leveraging education for recovery

Welcome to Conditions of Education in California

Commentary authors
Summary

For nearly three decades, PACE has facilitated discussions on California's education policies by integrating academic research into key policy challenges. Traditionally, this involved publishing policy briefs, organizing seminars, and producing the annual 'Conditions of Education in California' report, offering comprehensive data and analysis on the state's education system. The launch of "Conditions of Education in California" as a blog marks a shift to engage a wider audience and enable ongoing updates. This platform, authored by PACE-affiliated researchers across California, aims to share new data, compelling research findings, and insights on current legislation and policies. The objective remains fostering informed discussions on education policy challenges in California, now extending the conversation to policymakers, educators, and citizens. This inclusive dialogue is crucial to drive the necessary policy understanding and momentum for improving the state's education system.

Getting Down to Facts

Commentary author
Summary

"Getting Down to Facts" is a new research initiative commissioned by Governor Schwarzenegger's Committee on Education Excellence, state Democratic leaders, and Superintendent Jack O'Connell. Led by Susanna Loeb, a Stanford Graduate School of Education Professor and PACE codirector, this project seeks to explore California's school finance and governance systems. Its objective is to provide comprehensive insights essential for assessing the effectiveness of potential reforms. The initiative addresses three key questions: the current state of school finance and governance, optimizing existing resources for improved student outcomes, and evaluating the need for additional resources to meet educational goals. The studies from this project are expected to be available by January 2007.