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Unprecedented education study targets schools’ financial woes

California schools are woefully under-funded–one estimate of the shortage hovered at an astonishing $1 trillion–according to a massive new study due next week that is believed to be the most comprehensive evaluation ever of California’s education system.

The omnibus document, a collection of nearly two-dozen reports, is all but certain to set off a new policy debate in the education community and yet another political battle in the Legislature over education funding.

The reports are not simply designed to place a dollar figure on what is needed in the schools. They are expected to take a much deeper look at California’s maze of education funding, and how the state might make better use of the dollars it is already spending on public schools.

The work is the result of 23 separate studies conducted by four separate foundations, and requested by Democratic legislative leaders, state superintendent Jack O’Connell and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The studies will look at everything from the state’s tangled web of education finance to funding shortages to problems and inefficiencies in the way schools are funded.

“California’s education system is overly bureaucratic,” says Ted Mitchell, chairman of the governor’s Committee on Education Excellence. “There are multiple conflicting layers throughout the system. The studies took a hard look at that.”

Mitchell says the studies will not be making policy recommendations.
That job will fall to the committee, which expects to take time analyzing the new data and making a number of recommendations to Gov. Schwarzenegger.

Officials are tight-lipped about some of the studies’ findings, but several Capitol sources who have seen the studies say some of the findings indicate schools are under-funded by as much as $1 trillion. But they caution that the huge number is the product of diverse estimates, and subject to revision.

The studies can be broken down into three categories: The first are descriptive, providing a roadmap and outline of the state’s complex system of education program finance.

The next series of studies are “efficiency studies,” looking at ways to better utilize existing resources. These studies will look at, among other things, categorical spending programs. Many policy makers have argued that the state’s piecemeal education finance system needs improvement.

A number of legislators, including Speaker Fabian Nunez, have introduced spot bills that they will amend based upon the findings of the research.


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