Policymakers must fix inequitable education funding

Photo: Tony Savino, via Shutterstock)

The clamoring has begun over how to divvy up the state’s anticipated $26 billion windfall predicted by the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), and education advocates are eagerly anticipating an estimated $13.1 billion increase for K-12 and community college students.

It is critical that as the budget discussions progress one sector of public school students who have been shortchanged are treated — and funded — equally as their peers: Personalized Learning public charter school students.

Personalized education closes both the achievement and equity gap for tens of thousands of students annually in California. Our statewide network of Personalized Learning public charter schools alone is comprised of more than 75,000 public school students in 56 counties. Over half (54%) of these students are economically disadvantaged, 40% are Hispanic and 12% have disabilities.

Most traditional schools are following the lead of Personalized Learning schools.

Even before the pandemic, many of these students were outperforming their peers at traditional schools on the California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) test. Yet funding for these students now lags behind that of other public school students as a result of inequitable and unfair funding policies recently enacted by the Legislature and Governor.

The final 2020-21 budget enacted by the Legislature (SB 820) shattered decades of reliance on average daily attendance (ADA) as the formula for school funding. This unjustifiably denied growth funding for all Personalized Learning public charter schools.

Even if there was some twisted logic in denying funding for some students attending Personalized Learning charter schools, that faulty argument certainly does not work now that most traditional schools are following the lead of Personalized Learning schools.

A recent report from McKinsey & Company detailing learning loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic said that when looking at a path forward “schools can take a more holistic view of their role in a student’s life, reimagining elements of curriculum, teaching, technology, and supporting infrastructure in ways that go beyond the norm. It could continue with ensuring high-quality instructional materials in every classroom, integrating best-practice personalized, blended learning to help students master content.”

Learning delivery that is tailored to every student’s needs and interests, is flexible and adaptable, and offered through multiple settings is the foundation of Personalized Learning public charter school education.

This is what so many of our students are in desperate need of during these challenging times. While pandemic highlighted the importance of Personalized Learning, ironically, this is the very education approach that the state budget shortchanged.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit this spring, many APLUS+ member schools trained teachers and school leaders from local districts and schools. They became a resource for distance learning in their community and across the state hosting webinars and trainings, sharing best practices, and modeling distance learning. These Personalized Learning public charter schools are resilient – and highly sought after – but the highly inequitable and illegal state funding formula undermines all of that.

Our state leaders have the opportunity to restore equity and integrity to education funding. Restoring full per pupil funding equally for all public school students should be job one!

State leaders should use the additional state revenue to reverse the illegal and unfair funding formula that denied thousands of California students full funding for their education. This is the chance for state elected officials to reject political pressure from the education establishment and do what is right for California’s children.

President-elect Biden has stated on many occasions: “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”  If the governor and the California Legislature value the children that attend all public schools, they will equally fund all K-12 public school students and restore the longstanding policy of “funding following the student.”

All of California’s public school children deserve to be equally funded, equally treated, and equally supported by the state.

Editor’s Note: Jeff Rice is founder/director of the Association of Personalized Learning Schools & Services (APLUS+), jeffrice@jps.net

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