During Governor Gavin Newsom’s 90-minute, superlative-saturated monologue on the virtues of his revised 2021-22 budget this month, he bragged about a historic high in public school spending.
State aid and local property taxes would raise per-student spending to $ 14,000, he said, and with federal funds, it would exceed $ 20,000 for the first time. In addition, Newsom’s budget would advance its long-sought goal of providing universal preschool programs and a new idea of ââmaking schools community service centers.
The massive injection of money into schools raises a stinging question: how are they going to spend it?
This is a new take on a long-burning problem, centered on what educators call the ‘achievement gap’ – a great disparity in learning between poor and English-speaking students and their classmates. more privileged which almost certainly worsened during class closings.
Almost a decade ago, former Gov. Jerry Brown and the legislature gave schools with large numbers of underachieving students extra money to close the gap. However, he specifically refused to allow the state to monitor its effectiveness.
Since then, there has been an ongoing battle in the political and legal arenas, pitting a “fairness coalition” of civil rights and education reform groups against the educational establishment over how the formula works. Brown’s Local Control Fund (LCFF).
One point of contention has been the âLocal Control and Accountability Plansâ (LCAP) which are supposed to guide how LCFF funds are spent, with critics saying they are often vague and filled with heavy educational jargon. which makes them unnecessary.
After schools were closed last year due to the pandemic, the legal mandate to write CASLs was suspended and instead local schools had to adopt ‘Continuity of Learning Plans’ (LCPs) while they were temporarily transitioning to home schooling.
Last week, members of the Equity Coalition released a report critical of LCPs’ lack of clarity on “how they were investing money and resources to support California’s most underserved students –” leading us to wonder if they were really investing in these supports. â
The criticism has mirrored previous clashes over CASL and sets the stage for further conflict over how schools will spend the gusher of new funding that Newsom touts.
The equity coalition likes what Newsom says about using the new revenue for a big push to narrow or close the success gap.
âThis is a unique opportunity to reinvent our schools with transformative investments that can ensure all students thrive,â said Erin Apte, legislative counsel for Public Advocates, one of the authors of the new report, in a statement. communicated. .
The report from Public Advocates and like-minded groups offers recommendations to help local schools “meet their equity obligations to students and families, strengthen their engagement with key stakeholders, strengthen services and support they provide to students with unique needs and to improve transparency around public education funding during and after this public health crisis. “
However, as we have seen with the LCFF and what happened – or did not happen – during the classroom closures brought on by the pandemic, local school officials will be under tremendous pressure to spend. the extra money to shore up the status quo, like salary increases. , rather than focusing on the success gap.
The lingering question is whether, while boasting about giving schools billions of extra dollars, Newsom is also willing – unlike Brown – to hold them accountable for the efficient spending of the money.
There is reason to doubt he will, given his close ties to educational institutions, especially the California Teachers Association, and his Brown-like penchant for handing over tough decisions to local officials, often chanting âThe local is decisiveâ on risky questions.
CalMatters is a public service journalism firm committed to explaining how the California State Capitol works and its importance. For more stories from Dan Walters, visit calmatters.org/commentary