Tag Archives: csba

What is “adequate” education funding?

Yesterday the 1st District Court of Appeals for California heard an appeal on Robles-Wong v. California, a landmark case originally filed by the California School Boards Association in 2010 and then combined with Campaign for Quality Education v. California, another funding adequacy case filed the same year. The judges must rule within the next 90 days whether to overturn an earlier dismissal of the case.

News reports on yesterday’s arguments:

I also highly recommend downloading and reading the California School Boards Association’s recent, very comprehensive report on funding adequacy. It’s packed with facts and figures and makes a strong case that California is still not funding its schools adequately, even with the real and significant increases we’ve seen through the Local Control Funding Formula. The report estimates that the state should add between $22 and $42 billion (with a “b”!) annually to adequately prepare students for college.

Download the full report here (PDF)>

P.S. After I wrote this post, I came across this article from the Atlantic, “How Rich Parents Can Exacerbate School Inequality,” which makes a strong case for adequate funding for ALL schools to lessen the need for parent fundraising. Among the gems:

[Robert] Reich also pointed out that when wealthy people give money to their town foundations, their tax-deductable donations stay in their own communities. The contributions enhance the schools’ success, which in turn increases the donors’ property value. In other words, the rich receive tax credits for giving money to themselves. “All of us are subsidizing the magnification of inequality in public schools,” he told me. It’s preposterous.”


Parental fundraising activities may even detract from local political activity, too, according to Reich. These highly educated, affluent parents, he said, use their finite energy and wallets to do some something that exclusively benefits their children. As a result, the parents may be less likely to advocate for policy changes that would benefits kids in other school districts, taking away some of their “political voice,” Reich theorized. Instead of going to Trenton or Albany to fight for public schools, they are running the town’s science fair.

One more:

Reich contrasted the fundraising efforts across school districts in California. He found that parents in the wealthy suburb of Hillsborough, California, raised about $2,300 per student on top of the district’s standard per-pupil allocation. Through online auctions whose items included a vacation on an island off of Belize in a house with a dedicated butler and a trip to see to the final episode of The Bachelor, they financed class-size reductions, librarians, art, and music teachers, along with smart technology in every classroom. In contrast, a foundation in Oakland raised only $100 per child. And, Reich said, parent foundations are nonexistent in most of the country’s poor cities and rural areas.


November 2012 ballot looks crowded with initiatives

Last week I was in San Diego for the California School Boards Association annual conference — and I’m working on a series of blog posts about issues I dug into there. Most pressing, however, is the number of initiatives that are being discussed to fix California’s revenue and/or spending, reform its educational and/or governance systems, or some combination thereof.

Qualifying an initiative for the ballot is not easy, so some of the measures we’ve read about will not actually make it to the ballot, but there are enough proposals in the works that political and education policy wonks are beginning to worry that the voters’ clear desire for a solution to our current problems will get lost in a confusing jumble of competing campaigns.

In the conference’s closing “State of the State” roundtable discussion on Saturday, CSBA’s legislative advocate Rick Pratt (soon to be the lead consultant for the Assembly Education Committee) didn’t mince words: “If all four [tax] initiatives make it to the ballot, none will pass.” And where would that lead us? Right back to where we are now, but a year later.

Here are proposals that received a lot of discussion at the conference:

  • “Think Long Blueprint for California”:  Billionnaire Nicholas Berggruen has assembled a committee of former legislators and heavy-hitters, including former Governor Gray Davis and former Assembly Speaker and SF Mayor Willie Brown. Its not-yet-public initiative would lower the overall tax rate but vastly expand taxation to services, raising at least $10 billion annually. It would form a somewhat scary-sounding Citizens Oversight Committee (appointed by the Legislature), with powers to unilaterally place initiatives on the ballot. Additional revenues would go to schools, but for specific, constrained purposes.
  • “2012 Kids Education Plan” : Ted Lempert, the director of the advocacy organization Children Now, has been working with stakeholders up and down the state to build a coalition of support for four principles that would form the backbone of an as-yet unseen initiative. These are: “a student-centered finance system”; “true transparency”; “significant workforce reforms”, and “new investments in education.” It sounds good, but the devil will be in the details.
  • “Our Children, Our Future: Local Schools and Early Education Investment Act”: The California State PTA and the civil rights organization The Advancement Project filed this initiative on November 30 and are beginning the push to collect the hundreds of thousands of signatures necessary to qualify it. The law would raise $10 billion in new tax revenue for Pre-K-12 education, and require those funds to be spent “at the local school sites, where kids are, not district administration.” It would prohibit the Legislature from directing how monies were spent, placing the new revenues in a  trust fund. The initiative would require re-approval by voters after 12 years.
  • Other miscellaneous tax proposals include an oil and gas extraction tax, and a “split roll” which would suspend Prop. 13 for commercial properties, allowing them to be re-assessed every year.

Update: Just this afternoon, Governor Brown announced he has filed his own initiative. From the Governor’s initiative announcing his action:

My proposal is straightforward and fair.  It proposes a temporary tax increase on the wealthy, a modest and temporary increase in the sales tax, and guarantees that the new revenues be spent only on education.  Here are the details:

  • Millionaires and high-income earners will pay up to 2% higher income taxes for five years. No family making less than $500,000 a year will see their income taxes rise. In fact, fewer than 2% of California taxpayers will be affected by this increase.
  • There will be a temporary ½ cent increase in the sales tax.  Even with this temporary increase, sales taxes will still be lower than what they were less than six months ago.

More details on Brown’s initiative is here.

Dispatches from the CSBA Annual Education Conference

This past week, I attended the California School Boards Association (CSBA) Delegate Assembly and Annual Education Conference here in San Francisco. CSBA is the professional organization for the roughly 5,000 school board members elected to the 950 or so school boards across California. I had meant to post notes in shorter form from the conference, but the long days and intermittent access to an Internet connection meant I am only just getting to write up my notes from sessions now.  So apologies for this long post, which I recommend skimming for the parts that interest you.

This is an interesting time for CSBA, which has been seen as the “middle ground” between the state’s teachers’ unions and the professional associations representing Superintendents and other school administrators. Last summer, CSBA’s executive director resigned amid questions about his use of the organization’s credit card and annual compensation in excess of $600,000 — a scandal that made national headlines. 

Despite this black eye, I have found the district’s membership in CSBA to be valuable. In my first year as a Board member, I attended their New Board Member Institute, an essential training for any new school board member (many districts require their new Board members to attend this Institute, and I believe SFUSD should as well).

This year I attended the following sessions:

  • Urban School Districts luncheon;
  • General Session address by Dr. Pedro Noguera
  • Autism, Learning and Education: Where we are and where we’d like to be
  • ESEA Reauthorization: Looking Ahead with Richard Rothstein (former NY Times Education columnist)
  • Data for Direction (with Christopher Maricle of CSBA)
  • Legislative Network luncheon
  • Second General Session with Ian Jukes
  • Facilitating Data Conversations to Drive Achievement
  • Third General Session: State of the State

Each session was valuable, for different reasons. Below are summaries:

Continue reading

What’s next for CSBA after Director departs?

My inbox has been active these past few days, ever since a Sacramento TV station aired a report investigating the compensation and spending habits of Scott Plotkin, the Executive Director of the California School Boards Association (CSBA). On Friday evening, CSBA announced that Mr. Plotkin would retire Sept. 1; until then he will be on paid leave, using up accrued sick time.

Details are scarce, and the CSBA Board is being tight-lipped because this is, ultimately, a personnel matter. But Mr. Plotkin’s compensation — reported as being in the area of $500,000 for 2007 and 2008 — has raised eyebrows, as has his use of corporate credit cards to withdraw significant sums of cash at Sacramento-area casinos. (I think I am safe in saying that it is almost never good news when you read the words “cash” and “casinos” in conjunction with “corporate credit cards.”)

What makes this story bigger than your garden-variety “executive retires under a cloud” news is that CSBA (a private non-profit organization) is funded through dues paid by member school districts — districts that are of course funded with taxpayer money. And in a time when schools are cutting back to the bone, and suing the state of California for equitable school funding, this news is spectacularly ill-timed.

 It’s horribly sad to watch a long, illustrious career in education policy come to such an abrupt end, and though I only met Mr. Plotkin once or twice I am sure this is not how he envisioned his retirement. Still, I think it was right for the CSBA Board to act quickly and decisively, because the credibility of the organization is at stake.

School districts pay tens of thousands of dollars to CSBA annually in dues and other fees, and taxpayers have a right to know whether their money is being well spent. In my 15-plus months representing SFUSD at the CSBA Delegate Assembly, I have never had cause to doubt that the organization was accurately and aggressively representing the concerns of the staff and students of San Francisco. But in the past few days, constituents have asked me what, specifically, we’ve gotten for our investment in CSBA, so here are just a few thoughts:

  • California has very few urban school districts, even though those urban districts enroll most of the state’s students. The overwhelming majority of delegates to the Delegate Assembly represent rural or suburban districts, and the policies of the organization skew towards those concerns. SFUSD’s active participation in CSBA over the years has clearly advanced the concerns of urban districts, which tend to have more low-income students, more students of color and more special education students than suburban and rural districts.
  • CSBA has a seat at the inner circle that makes education policy decisions in California. If SFUSD were to decide not to participate in CSBA, we would lose access to that seat at the table. This is hugely important because of our unique concerns as an urban district.
  • CSBA gives school board members from different districts a forum to connect with and learn from one another. I have learned a great deal from participating in CSBA workshops and seminars, and I know I am a better Board member as a result. I’ve connected with Board members across California and particularly in the Bay Area, and we’ve shared stories and strategies that have been mutually beneficial.
  • Last but certainly not least, CSBA’s Education Legal Alliance has won important legal victories that have increased funding for all districts in California. The negotiated settlement on Behavioral Intervention Plans last year is just the most recent example; that single settlement brought more funding into SFUSD than we have spent in CSBA  and Legal Alliance dues in decades. 

The CSBA Board has some work to do now, to rebuild trust among the dues-paying school districts and the tax-paying public. I have no doubt that the organization is more necessary and more useful than ever, but its practices and spending must be above reproach if we are to continue to advance the cause of adequate funding and sensible oversight for California’s school districts.

Budget outlook: CSBA looks for the silver lining

It’s no surprise that the budget outlook for schools, and the state as a whole, continues to be grim. At the “State of the State” closing session at this year’s annual conference of the California School Boards Association,  several education lobbyists and policy experts gave their assessments for 2010-11 — trying to give local school board members some sense of a silver lining — but with limited success.

First, CSBA lobbyist Rick Pratt surveyed the wreckage of the past 12 months — three budgets, none of which were balanced, and an ever-increasing state budget deficit which legislators continue to try to close with gimmickry. According to the legislative analyst, the state’s budget gap going into the 2010-11 budget year is almost $21 billion, and climbing. Worse, the minimum funding guarantee for schools under Proposition 98 is down $9 billion to $49 billion for next year — all in, a cut that equals $2,000 per student statewide.

Then, Janelle Kubinek, an executive with School Services of California, offered a more philosophical overview of schools’ predicament. Prison officials, she said, were told to find a way to cut $1 billion out of their budgets last year — so in response, they told legislators they’d be forced to release 30,000 prisoners.  “It’s as if [schools] had said ‘we’re not going to be able to educate third graders next year. Where would you like us to drop them off?’ ” said Kubinek. The state education code and funding mechanisms have been restructured to allow schools to “do less with less,” Kubinek said, but what schools should do is think about “doing different with less.” 

Echoing the other advocates, Kevin Gordon of School Innovations & Advocacy said that schools have taken a disproportionate share of cuts in the state budget — education spending represents 40% of the state budget, and yet education has taken 50% of total state budget cuts. 

The silver lining? Schools are actually owed $1 billion in Prop. 98 money for 2009-10 (the reasons for this are complex), which gives us a chip in 2010-11 negotiations. The Governor has three options: pay us the money, defer the payments to future years, or suspend Proposition 98 entirely.  In addition, the state accepted stimulus funds, and those funds carried with them a requirement that states maintain current funding levels for schools rather than cutting back and using Federal funds to backfill. This is another chip we can use in negotiations — providing that the Obama Administration does not waive this “maintenance of effort” requirement for California (there is political pressure for the White House to do just that).

The advocates at the final session didn’t talk about the coming adequacy lawsuit, but that is a part of the silver lining, too. The Education Legal Alliance, a group made up of school districts, teachers, PTA and other education advocacy groups, is just weeks away from filing an adequacy lawsuit charging that there is a disconnect between our state’s education policies and our funding mechanism. In the words of one of the attorneys involved in the case, “successful schools in California are the anomalies, and not easily replicable . . . The point is that [most schools] can’t get there with this level of funding.”

I came away with a sense that there are advocacy opportunities: we can voice support for the adequacy lawsuit, pressure the Obama Administration not to let California out of its obligation to maintain its education funding efforts, or simply make sure our local legislators (Assemblymembers Fiona Ma and Tom Ammiano, and Senators Mark Leno and Leland Yee) remember that voting for any further cuts in education, even those recommended by the Democratic leadership, is not acceptable.

Growing opposition to ‘Race to the Top’

I’m in San Diego this week at the California School Boards Association Annual Conference, and California’s efforts to qualify for Race to the Top funding are Topic Number One. From where I’m sitting, it looks to me like local school boards are growing increasingly disenchanted with the Obama Administration’s central education reform strategy. As one Southern California school board member memorably put it yesterday, “Are we willing to take the carrot [Race to the Top funding] for poor public policy that I’m going to have to live with for the next 10 or 11 years?”

This Hobson’s choice couldn’t come at a worse time for California school districts, which have already cut millions and are looking at cutting millions more in the years to come (we also got a pretty depressing budget outlook, which I’ll post later). It’s sure tempting to look at the possibility of California receiving up to $700 million in RtTT funding as a way to cushion that blow; but more and more I’m concluding that the price is just too high. What is that “price,” exactly?

  • a strange fascination with charter schools, despite the fact that research shows that the track records of charter schools in raising student achievement are as mixed as traditional public schools’;
  • a narrow-minded insistence on linking student test scores with teacher evaluation;
  • a requirement that states adopt common core standards, even though many of those standards are lower than California’s existing academic standards.

And here’s the worst part: whether or not California school districts “just say no” to RtTT funding, the CSBA legislative analyst believes the above rules are coming to us anyway, eventually, through the reauthorization of NCLB (now re-titled the more neutral “Elementary and Secondary Education Act” — ESEA).