Policy brief

Getting Beyond the Facts

Reforming California School Finance
Alan Bersin
California State Board of Education
Michael W. Kirst
Stanford University
Goodwin H. Liu
California Supreme Court


California’s school finance system is long overdue for reform. This policy brief proposes a new system that is more rational, more equitable, and politically feasible. At its core, the proposal aims to link district revenue to student needs and regional costs while ensuring that all districts are held harmless at current funding levels.

A reformed finance system is not a complete solution to improving student achievement. Changes in governance, incentives, and accountability are also required. But a rational funding mechanism provides an essential backdrop for discussion of broader reform issues. This policy brief discusses the background of the problems, the principles and concepts that guide our reform, and various simulations of how our reform might work in practice. It shows that significant improvement in the finance system can be achieved with modest new investment.

California’s current budget woes do not preclude implementation of the proposal. To the contrary, now is an especially good time to pursue a fundamental overhaul of the present system. Experience shows that there is little appetite for reform in rosy budget years as lawmakers simply use available money to create new programs. A lean budget year provides a critical window of opportunity to create a new framework for school finance that will ensure equity and coherence in funding allocations when new money becomes available.


Suggested citationBersin, A., Kirst, M. W., & Liu, G. H. (2008, April). Getting beyond the facts: Reforming California school finance [Policy brief]. Policy Analysis for California Education. https://edpolicyinca.org/publications/getting-beyond-facts