Poor test scores raise new doubts about landmark 2013 school finance law

Five years after Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature passed a sweeping new school finance law meant to provide extra help to struggling students in poor, minority communities, new federal test scores raise difficult questions about the effectiveness of the 2013 measure.

Every two years, at the order of the federal government, the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests are administered to check on fourth- and eighth-graders’ progress in math and reading in all 50 states. While eighth-graders showed gains on reading, California’s overall scores for 2017 released earlier this month remained on average among the worst in the nation, as the EdSource website reported.

But a deeper dive into the data showed that California fourth-graders scored worse on math than any state but Alaska. Poor scores by African-American students caught the eye of Ryan Smith, executive director of the Education-Trust West. “At a time when California is claiming to lead on issues of what’s right in our country, we should see black students improve at far greater rates, not sliding back decades,” he told EdSource.

What made the results particularly disappointing were the high expectations that had accompanied the enactment in 2013 of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) – arguably the biggest change in California public education since Gov. Pete Wilson and the Legislature approved the hiring of thousands of new teachers in 1996 as part of an ambitious effort to reduce the number of students in first-, second- and third-grade classes to no more than 20 per teacher.

Brown led the push for LCFF, calling it a commitment to social justice and education equity. The measure guaranteed additional funding to districts with high concentrations of English-language learners, impoverished families and foster children. The law’s second main component also eliminated most of the top-down funding edicts imposed on school districts.

Brown argued that local districts had a better grasp on what their students’ needs were than state lawmakers and Sacramento bureaucrats, and that LCFF would give local schools extra resources that would allow them to improve education outcomes for struggling students.

Claims that funds were diverted came early and often

But even before this month’s disappointing test scores, the Local Control program had drawn fire. In January 2015, the Legislative Analyst’s Office said none of the 50 school districts it reviewed had set up adequate standards to make sure the funds were used as they were supposed to be. Soon after, Education Trust-West and other groups which advocate for poor and minority students said funds meant to specifically help these students were instead used for overall district spending, starting with teacher raises.

Brown supported state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson after he formally rejected the criticism – with both saying, in effect, that local control meant local control. Efforts in recent years by lawmakers to force a stricter accounting of LCFF dollars have been blocked by teachers union allies in the Legislature, notably Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, the Long Beach Democrat who chairs the Assembly Education Committee. In 2016, the governor vetoed an LCFF accountability measures that managed to win the Legislature’s unanimous approval.

But in January, in presenting his final budget before being termed out, Brown offered an indirect concession to those upset with how LCFF dollars had been used.

“While many districts have seized the opportunities offered under the formula to better serve their students, others have been slower to make changes,” his 2018-19 spending plan noted. “To improve student achievement and transparency, the budget proposes requiring school districts to create a link between their local accountability plans and their budgets to show how increased funding is being spent to support English learners, students from low-income families, and youth in foster care.”


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  1. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 19 April, 2018, 20:39

    How much more can you take…..educated to be grocery baggers and …..forget it….

    Pack and ship

    Reply this comment
  2. Dork
    Dork 20 April, 2018, 05:24

    What made the results particularly disappointing were the high expectations that had accompanied the enactment in 2013 of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF)

    The only people that had any such expectations were the Cultural Marxist6s that implemented the insane program. But never fear folks, they were #1 in the Nation in Advanced Condom Placement.

    Reply this comment
  3. Marin Native
    Marin Native 20 April, 2018, 07:39

    The answer is always more money “for the children”. The Progressive solution for most problems. It is difficult to rationalize all this, when California has the highest income and gas taxes, highest poverty and homeless rates, and ranks almost last when it comes to education. California, the place where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, while the middle income earners continue to flee the state – that many feel cannot be fixed.

    Reply this comment
    • Koolkol
      Koolkol 21 April, 2018, 07:29

      You are right. Always ” For The Kids .” I’m very tired of this obvious trick.

      Reply this comment
  4. tom in SoCal
    tom in SoCal 20 April, 2018, 10:34

    And how much of the poor math scores can be attributed to Common Core teaching methods?

    Reply this comment
  5. Queeg
    Queeg 20 April, 2018, 13:55


    My granddaughter was failing in common core math. 250 dollar per month tutor to help her get through this academic year.

    Next year private school, the only hope.

    Reply this comment
  6. Loufca
    Loufca 20 April, 2018, 18:19

    Back in the 60’s and 70’s California schools were ranked number 2 in the country. Beginning with Jerry Brown’s first run as governor, our school systems began the slide to where they are at today: ranked 48th. The CTA is the other problem. Have you heard their recent commercials bashing charter schools? Pretty soon they will want to ban parochial schools because they demand more from their students. Jerry and his buddies are the reason and they have also given us the highest taxes in the US and let’s not forget the Bullet Train (aka Jerry’s Folly) which is already over budget by a multiple of 2.5.

    Reply this comment
  7. Richard Rider
    Richard Rider 22 April, 2018, 07:36

    In the last 30 years, per student public school spending in the U.S. has risen 117% — AFTER adjusting for inflation. Yet school scores remain flat. This is verified by fact-checking Politifact below — a left-of-center outfit.

    Reply this comment
    • Prof Ted Steele--- Ethics
      Prof Ted Steele--- Ethics 1 May, 2018, 14:56

      Richy– Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz yawn
      everyone knows these stats…… cut paste and snooze. EVERYthing has gone up– in fact education dough by 350% in 30 years— so? Your point? All of the constituent parts of Edu. have risen…….Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
      It takes money to educate and train your little brats to become smart, wise, and soulful comrades…… (ewwwww spooky word, no Richy?)

      Problems in education, like many in society are “over determined” HURRY— Away to Google!

      Reply this comment
      • Ulysses Uhaul
        Ulysses Uhaul 3 May, 2018, 10:39

        teddy….so cruel….marginal common sense and voodoo economics are their handicaps….be tolerant…..

        Reply this comment
        • Prof Ted S
          Prof Ted S 4 May, 2018, 11:00

          Mr. P and S– True that! I should be gentle but little Richy oughta know better. I’ve been as kind as I can with him but God Bless him he’s just not firing on all cylinders.

          Reply this comment
  8. Oregon Bill
    Oregon Bill 24 April, 2018, 06:06

    One more example of the chaos that results when THE INMATES ARE RUNNING THE ASYLUM.
    In this case the inmates are California’s unionized ‘teachers’.There will NEVER be enough money ‘for the kids’ because it’s not about the kids; it’s about pensions, benefits and paychecks. To the extent that California public school teachers ‘teach’, it’s mostly soft-core maoism and leftist baby-boomer brainwashing. Little Johnny and Debbie are WAY too busy figuring out which of 72 different genders they identify with to actually sit down and learn their times tables (BORING!). Then of course in the cities it’s all about chaotic gang-banging; prison prep schools.

    Reply this comment
  9. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 24 April, 2018, 08:34

    Moonbeams test scare way below the average liberal cash test dummy

    Reply this comment
  10. PabloAsync
    PabloAsync 3 May, 2018, 16:21

    I consider, that you commit an error. Let’s discuss. Write to me in PM, we will communicate.

    Reply this comment

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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