The Implications of Marin’s Rising Pension Costs and Tax Revolt for Increasing Education Funding
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Marin County school districts have been facing unprecedented pushback when trying to pass parcel taxes. This case study uses district financial and demographic data as well as interviews and focus groups with advocates and district and county leaders to investigate this change. It finds that (1) the current statewide financial situation is not sustainable for districts, (2) districts report feeling a tension between teacher compensation in high-cost Marin and spending in other areas, (3) there is high overall awareness of this issue but limited public awareness of the nuances of district...
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Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) faces a looming deficit and must make significant budget adjustments to avoid state intervention. This case study explores how SCUSD got to this point, how its finances compare with other districts in Sacramento County, and what the implications are for students, particularly those with the greatest needs. It finds that while SCUSD experiences many of the same fiscal pressures as other California districts, it is also unique. As compared with neighboring districts, SCUSD spends far more on health care and a smaller share of its budget on salaries...
Evidence from California
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Charter schools enroll a growing share of public school students, leading to concerns about the financial implications of charter schools for traditional public schools. Using detailed expenditure data for school districts in California, this paper exploits variation in charter school enrollment across time and between districts to evaluate how district spending and overall financial health change as nearby charter sectors expand. The analysis shows that larger charter enrollment shares are associated with lower levels of per-pupil spending and reduced fiscal health in traditional public...
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Researchers in the Getting Down to Facts II project showed that while the financial picture has improved in recent years for California’s school districts, several important challenges remain. This policy brief explores one of these challenges in greater detail: the costs of health and welfare benefits for district employees. In reality, employee health benefit costs pose two distinct challenges for districts. First, the cost of providing benefits to each employee has increased substantially over time. Because districts require employees to pay only a relatively small portion of these annual...

Evidence to Inform Policy
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Governor Newsom’s first Budget Proposal increases funding for education in California. There are areas of substantive overlap in the Budget Proposal and research findings from the Getting Down to Facts II (GDTFII) research project, released in September 2018, which built an evidence base on the current status of California education and implications for paths forward. As the Budget moves from proposal to reality, it is critical that the evidence from GDTFII continues to inform the policy process.

Views from the 2019 PACE/USC Rossier Poll
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With a new governor, state superintendent and legislators in Sacramento and a diminished federal role in education, there is an opportunity for California’s leaders to take stock of recent educational reforms and make necessary improvements. There are also a host of new and looming issues in K-12 and higher education. As California’s leaders confront these and other issues, where do California voters, including parents, stand on education and education policy? The newest edition of the USC Rossier/PACE Poll shares voter perspectives on a wide range of education issues.
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This article examines how district administrators’ conceptions of equity relate to the implementation of finance reform. The authors use sensemaking theory and four views of equity—libertarian, liberal, democratic liberal, and transformative—to guide a case study of two districts, finding evidence of two conceptions of equity: (1) greater resources for students with greater needs, and (2) equal distribution of resources for all students. One district demonstrated an organization-wide belief in the first conception, whereas the other conveyed individual-level understandings of both conceptions...
California’s Current Policies and Funding Levels
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California policymakers have established the expectation that all public school students should have access to a broad course of study, in classes where instruction is consistent with the state’s content standards. Further, the state holds schools and school districts accountable for their ability to ensure that all students achieve at a specified level of academic proficiency, attend school regularly, and graduate from high school prepared for adult success. For decades, many educators charged with these responsibilities have said that California’s state-controlled school funding system fails...

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California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which highlights accountability for student success, has identified the progress of special education students as an area of particular concern. Statewide, the LCFF outcome data show that students with disabilities perform at particularly low levels. Special education addresses the needs of students with disabilities to help them succeed in school. Federal and state laws play a major role in shaping how districts identify and serve students. Federal and state budgets also include significant annual appropriations to help districts pay for...

A 10-Year Perspective
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California’s 6-million-student public school system includes a vast inventory of publicly owned buildings and property. All of these facilities need to be maintained and some need major renovations to ensure health, safety, and educational suitability. Some communities also need new school buildings to house a growing student population. Research suggests students learn better in classrooms that are modern, comfortable, and safe, but the age and condition of school facilities varies widely across the state. According to a recent estimate, California school districts need to spend between $3.1...

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California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), signed into law in 2013, represents a substantial investment in school districts serving disadvantaged students and a modest relaxation of restrictions on district expenditures. The policy came at a time when the state was able to increase K-12 funding, thereby restoring cuts made a few years earlier. Through the LCFF, the state distributed a large portion of those increased funds based on the proportion of disadvantaged students in each school district—those who qualify for free or reduced-price meals, have limited English proficiency, or are...

What Do We Know?
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The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on July 1, 2013, represents the first comprehensive change in the state’s education funding system in 40 years. The LCFF eliminates nearly all categorical funding streams, shifts control of most education dollars from the state to local school districts, and empowers districts, through a process of stakeholder engagement, to shape resource allocation goals and priorities to meet local needs. KEY FINDINGS: What does research reveal about the LCFF after four years of implementation? The LCFF enjoys substantial support...

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In 2014, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 1469, a law that requires teachers and school districts, along with the state government, to substantially increase their respective contributions to the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS). The need for higher pension contributions is not a short-term aberration. Recent CalSTRS projections indicate that the higher rates will be required through 2046, assuming that the system continues to operate as it has and actuarial assumptions are met. The large increases in pension contributions have important implications for...

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The implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula presents local education leaders with the power and flexibility to use resources in new and different ways. Taking full advantage of this opportunity requires leaders to adopt budgeting practices that highlight the tradeoffs among system goals and facilitate the reallocation of scarce resources to support their top priorities. In this brief Mark Murphy reviews the experiences of three California school districts with budget tools that increase their ability to meet their students’ needs. Murphy discusses key lessons from these districts...

How a Research Center Based at USC Rossier, Stanford and UC Davis Is Helping California Forge Its Own Path in Advancing Its Education System
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In May 2016, on the Monday following USC Rossier’s two commencement ceremonies, more than 50 policymakers, philanthropists, and researchers gathered bright and early across the street from the USC campus for a two-day conference. The goal? Hashing out a research agenda that would inform teacher policy in California and beyond. USC Rossier Professors Julie Marsh and Katharine Strunk hosted the convening under the sponsorship of Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE). Founded in 1983, PACE is based at three academic institutions—the USC Rossier School of Education, Stanford University’s...
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Funding, resources, and effective teachers have been inequitably distributed across American schools for decades — contributing to vast opportunity and achievement gaps between high-need students and their more privileged peers.
Time to Reaffirm the Grand Vision
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California ended 40 years of reliance on categorical funding for schools when Governor Jerry Brown signed the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) into law on July 1, 2013. LCFF intends to enhance services for high-needs students through new flexibility, targeted student funding, and local accountability. Two years into LCFF implementation, our research in 18 districts and more than half of the state’s County Offices of Education (COEs) uncovers both reasons for optimism and a few concerns. District officials around the state remain enthusiastic about local control. Many report that the LCFF...

Early Implementation of California's Local Control Funding Formula
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California has taken the first steps down an historic path that fundamentally alters how its public schools are financed, education decisions are made, and traditionally underserved students’ needs are met. The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), passed with bipartisan legislative support and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on July 1, 2013, represents the most comprehensive transformation of California’s school funding system in 40 years. The LCFF significantly loosens the reins of state control over education. It all but eliminates categorical funding streams, substituting a base of...
Rethinking Budget Priorities Under the LCFF
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After years of painful budget cuts, new revenues will begin to flow to California school districts in 2014. Thanks to the voters’ approval of Proposition 30 and the adoption of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), nearly all districts can expect budget increases over the next several years. Districts that educate the most challenging students will see the largest gains. When the LCFF is fully implemented many schools and districts will receive 50 to 75 percent more revenue per pupil than they do now. The implementation of LCFF invites education leaders to look forward to 2020 rather than...
Can It Support California’s College and Career-ready Goal?
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For decades, when California’s state leaders have wanted to see local school districts respond to shifts in policy and expectations they relied on the state-controlled school finance system to leverage local change. Through the use of categorical programs and earmarked funding, they created incentives for districts that complied and penalties for those that did not. The result: a school finance system that has been roundly criticized as irrational, inequitable, excessively complicated, overly centralized, and inefficient at allocating resources. In 2012, Governor Jerry Brown proposed to...
Strong Returns from a $19.5 Billion Investment
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Aiming to relieve overcrowded schools operating on multiple tracks, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has invested more than $19 billion to build 130 new facilities over the past decade. In a new PACE policy brief, William Welsh, Erin Coghlan, Bruce Fuller, and Luke Dauter from the University of California – Berkeley analyze the effects on student achievement of this massive initiative. Tracking thousands of students who moved from overcrowded to new facilities over the 2002-2008 period, the authors discovered robust achievement gains for many students. Elementary-school pupils...
Revenues and Expenditures in the Second Year of Categorical Flexibility
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California's system of school finance is highly regulated and prescriptive. A large share of state funding is allocated through categorical programs; that is, programs whose funding is contingent on districts using the money in a particular way or for a particular purpose. In 2008–09, the strings were taken off 40 of those programs, collectively known as the "Tier 3" programs, as part of a budget deal that also reduced the funding for those programs. The author gathers evidence about how districts have responded to this fiscal freedom, particularly how resource allocations are made at the...
How Districts Responded to Flexibility in Tier 3 Categorical Funds in 2010-2011
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California's system of school finance is highly regulated and prescriptive. A large share of state funding is allocated through categorical programs, that is, programs whose funding is contingent upon districts using the money in a particular way or for a particular purpose. In 2008–09, the strings were taken off 40 of those programs, collectively known as the "Tier 3" programs, as part of a budget deal that also reduced the funding for those programs.
A Weighted Pupil Formula for California
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Governor Jerry Brown has called for a major overhaul of California’s school finance policies. His proposal for a weighted pupil funding system would simplify the rules that govern the distribution of funds to schools and school districts, while targeting a larger share of available resources to the schools and students with the greatest needs. In this policy report Mary Perry offers an overview and analysis of the policy change that the Governor has proposed.
How 10 Districts Responded to Fiscal Flexibility, 2009–2010
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In a new report, “Deregulating School Aid in California: How 10 Districts Responded to Fiscal Flexibility, 2009-2010,” Bruce Fuller, Julie Marsh, Brian Stecher and Tom Timar detail how leaders in 10 California school districts are responding to the deregulation of $4.5 billion in education funding. Sacramento policymakers have freed local educators from the specific guidelines that previously regulated spending on 40 categorical-aid programs. These program funds became entirely flexible in 2009, and local school boards could decide how to allocate these resources.