Vast inequality lurks behind mind-numbing data on school spending
School finance has the power to bring tears to my eyes. Sometimes, when I am reading the latest School Services of California bulletin, I start squinting. Then I start yawning. Then, before I know it, I’m squinting and yawning simultaneously, causing my eyes to water. When I see the words “revenue limit,” I begin looking for a pillow. The explanation of the difference between a “Test 1” and a “Test 2” year for calculating Proposition 98 funding can actually cause my brain to melt out of my ears.
Despite these disturbing effects, my organization, the Education Trust-West, is focusing our attention on education finance. Earlier this year, we released “The Cruel Divide,” looking at the difference in funding between wealthy and poor districts. After running the numbers, we found that the poorest districts in California actually receive $620 less per pupil than the wealthiest districts. Around the time that we released that paper, the “Occupy” protests were in full swing, and the issue of income inequality was in the media spotlight. To this day, I wonder if I shouldn’t have taken our finance briefs to the Occupy encampment in downtown Oakland and given a detailed explanation of the impact of Proposition 13 on unrestricted school district revenue. My speech would have given protestors something useful to attack – or saved downtown by turning them catatonic.
Last week we released our second finance paper, “Tipping the Scale Towards Equity,” using a new set of school finance data collected by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights (OCR). This paper examines differences in spending on teachers and schools inside California’s 20 largest school districts.
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