We received a very specific question about this, which is actually illustrative of the situation in general:
“This [site] doesn’t seem to address the LCFF funding formula that directs more money per student to districts that have higher percentages of at-risk or disadvantaged students. For instance, in [Contra Costa], WCCUSD and Mt. Diablo receive much higher levels of state funding per student than San Ramon because they have many more disadvantaged students, but San Ramon Valley is nevertheless much stronger financially because they supplement their state funding with high levels of local funding through taxes and fundraising. The fact that this site lists those three districts together as most impacted is a bit misleading, in my opinion. In Martinez, we’re sort of stuck in the middle. We don’t get as much LCFF funding as some of these other districts because we don’t have as many disadvantaged students, but we also don’t have the ability to raise the same amount of money locally as more affluent districts like San Ramon. Our LCFF funding is lower than every other unified school district in the county other than San Ramon.”
First of all, the situation that the writer describes has masked regional cost inequities for a long time. In wealthier counties, a mix of basic-aid districts, parcel taxes, education foundations, PTA/PTOs, volunteers, supplemental/concentration grants for the poorest districts, plus other resource-raising activities, has obscured the overall situation. Any average can be misleading and frustrating.
Second, it is important to note the difference in size between the districts mentioned -- the ‘big three’ enroll about 32,000 students each, while Martinez enrolls 4,000. Since we have done nothing more than multiply a district’s LCFF target funding by its regional cost differential, bigger and/or more disadvantaged districts will pop to the top of our charts.
Third, what we’ve displayed is the financial hardship caused by failure to supplement for regional costs.
That said, let’s look at a chart showing FY2017-18 actual educational spending per student in each of Contra Costa’s larger districts -- and how it would have looked, supplemented for its regional cost deficit.
The “donut” dip is clearly illustrated among Contra Costa’s districts. The effect of a regional cost supplement -- raising all boats -- is similarly illustrated by Microsoft Excel’s polynomial best-fit trendlines. Note, however, that the two trendlines tighten up on the left-hand-side, where a regional cost-of-living supplement mitigates, to some extent, higher parcel tax and basic-aid property tax advantages. Note also that $800+ per student does make an appreciable difference across the board.
We have chosen not to second-guess how LCFF addresses the cost of mitigating disadvantage on a student- or community-basis (supplemental or concentration grant percentages), now or in the future. Nor do we want to get into the perennial reductio ad absurdam of California school funding discussions. (1. Make a funding list; 2. Cut the “wealthiest” district off it with the instruction to go fund themselves; 3. Repeat step 2 in order to increase the funding elsewhere; 4. Discover the list is so small that it has no political backing; 5. Give up for another year.)
Bringing Contra Costa up to cost parity with the rest of the state would cost $146 million. Contra Costa contributes more than $1.1 billion of personal income tax to the state General Fund in excess of all state funding for its own schools and residents’ use of state services. It’s time to reinvest a small fraction of that excess in its schools.