Unlike stocking caps, one size doesn't fit all when it comes to school reform.

Some say more money's the answer, pointing to an October 2011 report by the California Budget Project. A Decade of Disinvestment: California Education Spending Nears the Bottom cites statistics showing the state ranks 46th in the nation in per pupil funding, nearly $3,000 below the median of all states. California falls to dead last in the average number of K-12 students per teacher.

Anti tax groups claim more money won't change a broken system. The primary obstacles to school reform are unions and administrative bureaucracies that protect bad teachers and refuse to reward the best.

Still others say failing schools are caused by conditions outside the classroom--poverty and poor parenting. Even the best teachers are limited in their effectiveness with kids who come to crowded classrooms hungry, neglected and abused.

With each release of student test scores the most reliable predictor of a school's progress remains the average family income of its students. California's latest scores continue to highlight the difference in student achievement. Only 4 in 10 seventh graders from low income families tested proficient at grade level in math. Seven in 10 of their more well-to-do classmates scored at that level. The same achievement gap can be found in Carlsbad schools.

In LA's Compton School District, however, where 9 out of 10 students are economically disadvantaged, there is no achievement gap. A mere 3 out of 10 of all seventh graders have achieved proficiency in math.

The lingering test score disparity proves we need to abandon the notion all schools need help. Students from well-to-do families are doing just fine. That doesn't mean all schools shouldn't be held accountable for better results. It just means we need to target our tax revenue for education more wisely.

Here's an example of a misplaced priority for school funding. A local self-described school reform advocate says the Carlsbad School district should offer summer enrichment classes free of charge.

The school district's budget can't be stretched that far, so school officials came up with a creative alternative. The district contracts with the Carlsbad Educational Foundation to rent classrooms, offer classes and charge students for the instruction. The CEF is a non-profit organization providing private support for Carlsbad schools. An extended school year is a great idea for many reasons, but the state does not provide extra funding for that.

The CEF summer enrichment program is open to all, including students from outside the district. It does not offer remedial classes. It simply provides opportunities for students who want to accelerate their progress toward graduation or gain more flexibility for electives in their senior year.

Those are noble personal goals, but taxpayers shouldn't be required pay for them. Low income students can apply for scholarships.

Here are seven reasons I support Governor Jerry Brown's spending plan for revenue generated by new taxes created by Prop 38.

  1. A per pupil spending increase of $2,800 will bring the current amount to the national average.
  2. All schools will get their pre-recession funding level, adjusted for inflation.
  3. Base funding will be increased for schools with a majority of their enrollments composed of English learners, students from low income families and foster youth. (Yes, that means Compton gets more of an increase than Carlsbad.)
  4. A new Local Control Funding formula will allow schools to decide how best to meet the needs of their students and develop their own accountability standards.
  5. The Common Core implementation will produce higher quality subject matter content and improved teaching skills.
  6. Career/technical education will get more funding.
  7. Child Care and State Preschool funding will be enhanced.

Brown's departure from one size fits all school funding is the answer to all three arguments for fixing failing schools: 1. More money, 2. Spent more wisely, 3. On students who need the most help in and outside the classroom.

Richard Riehl writes from La Costa. Contact him at [email protected]


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