A plea to keep politics out of school funding

Children taking notes during classroom instruction. (Photo: Monkey Business Images, via Shutterstock)

 California has an astounding surplus – almost $100 billion – yet Gov. Newsom’s Administration proposed a K-12 budget that does not fund all students equally.

It shortchanges and discriminates against over 200,000 students who attend nonclassroom-based public charter schools by intentionally excluding them from hold harmless provisions. Essentially, students who have returned to a classroom full time are being prioritized and students who found that they learn better in a more flexible model are being punished.

The Legislature needs to stand up and support the parents and children throughout California who choose personalized learning programs.

Policymakers recognize that the pandemic continues to impact school attendance and are rightfully trying to help some schools that have seen dwindling attendance.

Specifically, the governor’s May Revise provides a hold-harmless provision for all classroom-based schools to use a modified version of 2021-22 average daily attendance to determine funding for the 2021-22 school year. The governor’s proposal further extends the hold harmless benefits to independent study students in traditional district school programs but again harms independent study students who choose to learn in a nonclassroom-based public charter school program.

Once again, these 200,000-plus students — many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds — have difficulty learning in the classroom environment, or have special needs and are being treated differently for the choices they and their parents have made.

The current flawed and inequitable funding allocation perpetuates a false narrative that in-person classroom-based learning is the best education model for all students.

However, the pandemic reinforced that students learn differently. Some thrive with full-time in-person instruction and absolutely need to learn in-person. Others succeed – both academically and emotionally – in a more flexible, personalized school environment that supports their individual needs.

The Legislature needs to stand up and support the parents and children throughout California who choose personalized learning programs. They need to pass a state budget that does not discriminate against any public school student, holding all students harmless.

The current hold-harmless funding formula presents serious equity issues by penalizing high performing schools which seamlessly transitioned during the pandemic and produced outstanding academic results.

If Personalized Learning public charter schools were not successful, they would not have a waitlist each year. And we would not have the education establishment trying to chip away at an innovative education model that continues to successfully serve students throughout the state.

As the budget is negotiated, I urge state lawmakers to stand up for ALL students and families in their district. The independent study students served by the 90-plus member schools within the APLUS+ network alone reside in 56 out of the 58 counties in the state.

That means that nearly every lawmaker has students in their district who are being told they are not worth the same amount of state funding as their peers.

While we appreciate that the budget proposal provides significantly higher funds above the Prop. 98 guarantee and the local control funding formula (LCFF) to benefit all schools, it must not pick winners and losers when providing hold harmless funding.

Editor’s Note: Jeff Rice is founder/director of the Association of Personalized Learning Schools and Services (APLUS+)

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