county boards
Full and Fair Funding is about more than improved test scores
By John McPherson, Monterey COE trustee

There are not many involved with public education in California who do not support an increase in per-pupil spending in the state. If the expectation is for students — especially those who are economically disadvantaged — to score well on standardized tests and to graduate on time, we need to better fund our schools, but the issue goes deeper than that.

Since the turn of the century and particularly in the wake of the Great Recession, California has split in two economically, and our current school funding exacerbates that divide. I am a county board member in Monterey County, and in my trustee area I have two districts that are about 13 miles apart, Washington Union and Chualar Union school districts. There are parts of the Washington Union district from which you can actually see Chualar. Washington Union sits on Highway 68, which is a very desirable place to live for professionals in both Monterey and Salinas. Chualar is a small farmworker community right in the middle of the Salinas Valley.

The funding for Washington Union is $8,153 per student, while the funding for Chualar is $11,341 per student, with $3,298 of that coming from supplemental/concentration grant revenue through the Local Control Funding Formula. Based on this information, one could say that the state of California is treating the students in these two districts equitably. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the situation is just the opposite, with the current funding system locking the Chualar students in an educational environment where the base education service provided is the ceiling, while in Washington Union the base educational service provided is the floor. Additional resources are available to the students at Washington Union that are not available to the students at Chualar — including college-educated parents, well-funded foundations that can support music and other extracurricular programs, and access to tutors and five high-quality private schools. So, Washington Union district’s actual per-pupil funding is more like $23,000 to $25,000, which is than double what it is for Chualar. Based on this evaluation, the students in Chualar have a built-in institutional disadvantage that is very difficult to overcome.

While the need to raise test scores and improve outcomes is real and urgent, the deeper question is: are all students in California receiving equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution? Brown v. Board of Education made clear you cannot segregate public education because of race, but are we now doing the same thing based on resources? In order to change public perception on the need for Full and Fair Funding, we need to make the case that the issue at hand is much bigger than just test scores.