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Jerry Brown's 'Robin Hood' Plan For School Finance Reform

Patch's education columnist likes the idea of transferring money from wealthier districts to the likes of San Leandro -- but wonders how to spend the money & what it will buy?

Jerry Brown's 'Robin Hood' Plan For School Finance Reform


(Jerry Heverly is a public school teacher in San Leandro.)

An image from my childhood:  Errol Flynn, clad in skin-tight, green breeches, humbling the rich, giving to the poor.

Who knew that in my old age I’d witness a real-life Robin Hood, this time clad in blue jeans?

Jerry Brown wants to change the way schools are financed in California.

He wants to take from the rich and give to the poor via two reforms.  

Firstly, he wants to give money to local districts with no strings attached. Strings, in this case, are called “categoricals.”

When the legislature wants local districts to spend money on a particular program (vocational education, for instance) it writes rules intended to insure that the money is spent the way the lawmakers intend.

Over time those rules have gotten more and more complicated.

And the number of categoricals has similarly grown.

Almost everyone agrees that the whole system needs reform.

Brown would like to eliminate most of the categoricals and let local school boards decide how they want to spend the money that Sacramento sends to them.

That isn’t all, however.

The Governor would like to take the new cash generated by Proposition 30 and give the majority of it to districts with a preponderance of poor or immigrant kids.

That’s not a popular notion in California’s wealthy suburbs.

My instinct is to root for Robin Hood.

Seeing the wealthy discomfited is fun in real life just as it is on the silver screen.

And it doesn’t hurt that my own district would get more money under the Governor’s proposal than it would in a non-reformed distribution system.

But there is an assumption behind the Governor’s proposal that troubles me.

He assumes that it costs more to educate a poor student than a child of the rich or middle class.

When I tried to find out the details of this assumption all I could find is a recurring mantra:  “Research proves that it costs more to educate a child who is poor or an English Learner.”

It’s something that everyone says, but is it true?

{If you want to see a good debate on this topic look here:  http://www.edsource.org/today/2013/shame-on-districts-seeking-to-perpetuate-funding-advantages/27246.}

If the state legislature, were to send us a few million extra bucks—because we have a large number of poor and immigrant students—what would we do with the money?

Would we hire better teachers? We could, for instance, find ten fabulous teachers in nearby districts and offer them a bonus to come over to our side.

My guess is, though, that this is just what the legislature does not want to happen—to spend the extra dollars on salaries.

We could buy more books. Our school libraries would benefit from an infusion of cash. But poor kids don’t generally hang out in the library.

We could hire staff. Our parent coordinator is doing a fabulous job of helping disadvantaged kids in our school. I’d favor this but even a good coordinator impacts only a handful of students.

I read that poor children participate in fewer sports than rich kids. We could put money here. Except that poor kids often can’t do sports because of low grades and after-school jobs.

Our music and art programs need money but, again, my sense is that this isn’t a way to directly benefit low-income students.

Worst of all, I suspect the district’s idea would be to spend more money on regimenting what teachers do. The feeling is that you can raise the standard of teaching by having everyone doing the same thing in the same way.

I’ll never believe that this improves anyone’s education, including the poor.

In my gut I’m rooting for the Governor, but can’t truthfully say that I feel confident that his assumption is correct.

You can read more essays like this in the  archives of Entirely Secondary.

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