Our new report, The Cruel Divide: How California’s Education Finance System Shortchanges its Poorest School Districts, paints a startling picture of inequity. California’s highest poverty districts receive $620 less per student from state and local sources than the state’s wealthiest districts. For a mid-sized school district of 6,000 students, that amounts to over $3.7 million per year.
Most people know that California school districts have suffered a series of brutal budget cuts over the past five years. What’s less evident to the public is the differential impact of these cuts based on the size and wealth of school districts. Our report illustrates that poor districts get less revenue than wealthy districts. As a result, when their budgets are cut, they have to trim far more services than wealthy districts and their financial health becomes far more precarious.
Adults make these decisions but kids suffer. Our poorest districts cut education support services like counseling and nursing. They cut their school year and eliminate summer school. Children lose arts, music and other enrichment activities. Meanwhile, students on the other side of the tracks, a zip code away, have everything they need to succeed.
For four decades, there have been efforts in the legislature and the courts to fix our finance system. Our report reveals how far those efforts still have to go. Governor Brown has taken a step in the right direction in calling for a streamlined school finance system and a weighted student formula. But for the Governor’s proposal to work, the dollars have to go to the school-level to the students who need them. As we noted in our 2005 Hidden Gaps Report, district-level spending can hide huge gaps in funding between schools. As we reform our state education finance system, we should fix inequities at both levels.
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