On Campus: Concerns raised over how funds for higher-needs kids will be used

Posted by Nan Austin on January 15, 2014 

Parents will converge on the Capitol today to rally for more stringent rules tying education funding to direct services for children.

The state Board of Education is scheduled to take up the plodding work of sorting through legal wording to guide spending under the new local control funding formula for schools. The hot-button issue will be spending constraints on extra dollars that districts get for serving high numbers of poor children, English learners and foster children. Because most districts in the San Joaquin Valley qualify for those extra dollars, this directly affects education here.

Should districts have to spend that extra money directly helping those higher-needs kids, or should they be able to spend it anywhere, as long as those groups meet goals for improved achievement?

Arguing for a tighter watch on where funding goes is a broad coalition gathered behind PICO California, a faith-based advocacy group. It expects to bring 300-plus students and parents to the meeting and a representative is scheduled to testify before the board.

In a letter to the board submitted Friday, the coalition warns of “a loophole in the regulations that might allow funding to be used districtwide for any general purpose.”

The problem lies within proposed rules for districts or charter schools with more than 55 percent of students qualifying under one of the three designations. Those high-needs districts can use the targeted funds for anything, as long as they are used for the district’s goals for the three groups of students. But if the district’s goals are the same for all its students, then the funds could be used across the board, the letter points out.

Because districts presumably want all their students to raise scores, improve attendance and in general succeed, it stands to reason this could offer a significant loophole indeed.

Arguing against more stringent requirements will be those who feel districts should be given broad latitude to design local solutions. Sacramento should keep its mitts off and let local control mean truly local control.

Fair enough. But here’s the thing: Every district getting more money will be under pressure to raise salaries. If money can be used districtwide, that’s on the table.

Mention more dollars for schools and parents usually think of adding music equipment, science labs or an arts program. Across the low-income communities this funding targets, raising the salaries of people making two to three times what they do is probably not high on their list.

Parents rallying in Sacramento today say they want the needs of kids in distressed and struggling communities to come first. The state Board of Education will have to weigh competing priorities and philosophies, and decide.

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