The Oakland-based Applied Research Center convened a racial justice summit last Wednesday at the State Building in downtown Oakland. ARC’s Tammy Johnson and Alfredo De Avila deserve an incredible amount of credit in convening an incredible group of sharp policy folks from many areas mixed in with community organizers and policy makers.
In the very frank discussion during the summit’s education working group, most of the 50 or so in attendance pointed to the inequality of funding of schools in low income communities of color [or some problem related to this] as the major issue that they wanted to address in their organizing or advocacy work.
Sacramento State University Professor and activist Duane Campbell points this out too in his Choosing Democracy Blog where he cites the Public Policy Institute of California’s October 29, 2003 report Reality Check: Expectations For California Students Outstrip Resources .
The differences between California and the nation are striking on both dimensions. For example, California has 25 percent fewer teachers per pupil and spends approximately 9 percent less per student than schools in the rest of the United States.
Yet, to meet the state’s performance goals under the API system, approximately 70 percent of students at every school would have to exceed the national median on the Stanford 9 achievement test. “These are exceptionally high standards by any measure,” says PPIC research fellow Heather Rose, who co-authored the study, High Expectations, Modest Means: The Challenge Facing California’s Public Schools. “California expects students to do much better than students in other states, but with fewer means.”
California’s relatively modest school resources have less to do with low state spending generally than with a lower percentage of spending on K-12 education, higher cost of living, and larger population of school age children, according to the study. In 1999-2000, 22 percent of total government spending in California went to public schools compared to 25 percent in the rest of the nation. At the same time, there were 8 percent more pupils per capita in California than in the rest of the country.
[The authors strongly suggested the need for an overhaul of California’s horribly inequitable and structurally racist system of school finance - Eric ]
The report also raises important questions about the effectiveness of California’s system of school finance, where the amount of money provided to schools is based on previous funding levels rather than on independent needs assessments. “The way we finance schools operates on an automatic pilot mentality — doing what was done before — instead of addressing what schools really need or taking into account what specific resources really cost,” says Rose.
Professor Campbell concludes that there has been no improvement in school funding since the 2003 PPIC report.
The WILLIAMS CASE
Many educational justice activists credit the ACLU/Public Advocates Williams vs. California case also as a step forward in addressing funding inequities, but also racism and socio-economic inequality in the state’s schools.
The case was filed on May 17, 2000 [the 46th Anniversary of the landmark Brown V. Board of Education case] behalf of 46 students in 18 schools throughout the state and including 12 year old Samoan immigrant Eli Williams from San Francisco’s Burbank Middle School and later Balboa High School [both SF schools named in the suit].
The grievances ranged from lack of material needs like text books and computers to the inadequacy of teaching staff, unfair testing requirements and decaying facilities that wouldn't pass even minimal prison health inspections.
To emphasize the structural racism in the school finance system in California, the advocates emphasized that students of color in the 18 schools cited by the plaintiffs make up 96 percent of the student body, compared to the state average of 59 percent minority enrollment.
In August 2004, the state reached a $1 billion settlement in the case. The state agreed to immediately spend $188 million to buy books for and make repairs at the lowest-performing schools. The settlement also created a system for students and teachers to lodge complaints about substandard conditions, and imposed a 30-day deadline for resolving them.
But many say the reality of the Williams case settlement is far from its promise.
Sacramento Bee columnist Peter Schrag describs the Williams settlement in critical terms: "It moves things forward, but by inches, not by yards."
Schrag has been covering the Williams lawsuit since it was filed, and has also written a book, "Final Test: The Battle for Adequacy in America's Schools," on these lawsuits nationally. Read Schrag's essay.
CA SCHOOL BOARDS ASSOCIATION BUILDS AN ALLIANCE FOR FUNDING REFORM
Even mainstream groups like the California School Boards Association are now stepping into the mix in alliance with Children Now, the California League of Women Voters, the California Teachers Association and members of the state’s Education Coalition to coordinate a public dialogue about the concept of adequate funding.
I have been in the CSBA's delegate assembly governance body since 2001. At our early December meeting in San Diego we will be kicking off our statewide campaign.
Seeing the urgent need to move away from a system that simply provides schools a portion of the year’s available revenues rather than determining what funding is required to attain the expected student outcomes, education and child advocates, business leaders, good-government groups and others have joined a campaign to advocate for change.
According to CSBA: “The need for such a campaign became evident last year when settlement of the American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the state – Williams v. State of California – failed to produce any meaningful reform that would pull state funding for public education out of the downward spiral that began in the late 1970s. “Public school advocates have filed suit over education funding levels in a majority of states, but so far even those that have won legal victories have not actually increased the amount of money schools have at their disposal to improve educational offerings.”
* California ranks 44th in the nation in per-pupil funding despite
being the sixth largest economy in the world.
* California has among the highest expectations in the nation for its students and public schools, and its more than 6 million schoolchildren come from the most diverse backgrounds and circumstances.
“An investment in students and K-12 public education is an investment in children, the economy, society and democracy. Unfortunately, California’s investment over the past 20 years has been woefully inadequate,” said CSBA Executive Director Scott P. Plotkin. “We’re optimistic that we will be able to move past the divisive politics that have bogged this conversation down in the past and have a rational conversation about our public education goals, activities and resources.”