School Funding

Report: Funding More Equitable in CA K–12 But Gaps Persist


School district funding in California is more equitable but access gaps persist, according to a new research study published by The Education Trust–West.

Through comprehensive data analysis, the report finds that California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) — which gives school districts more autonomy to decide which programs and services to spend state funding on — has reversed inequitable revenue gaps that used to exist between the highest and lowest poverty school districts.

The revenue gap was at its widest point right before LCFF, passed in 2013, with the highest poverty districts receiving $829 less per student in 2012-2013. The analysis found that funding three years into LCFF was more equitable, with the highest poverty districts receiving an average of $334 more per student in 2015-16.

While this research finds that funding has become more equitable, it did not find evidence that the funding has yet translated into more equitable opportunities for students in low-income schools. The highest poverty schools still have less access to crucial school support staff, as well as a rigorous and broad curriculum. In some cases, these gaps have widened, the report said.

For example, low-income students have significantly less access to counselors and librarians and courses like calculus, physics, computer science and music. The research could not fully assess how equitable spending is at the specific school site level, since budget information is not reported in a standardized or centralized way.

“While we fully support the intent of the law, LCFF’s success hinges on how we implement the formula and how districts think about using the whole budget to support equity,” said Ryan J. Smith, executive director of The Education Trust–West, in a statement. “The law revolutionized how we fund districts; now it’s time that we focus on closing opportunity gaps for low-income students and students of color.”  

Despite policy and economic constraints, some districts are using the full budget and leveraging personnel to support equity, the study found. These districts are shifting dollars and staff to higher need schools, and addressing institutional barriers to opportunities.

The report, titled “The Steep Road to Resource Equity in California Education: The Local Control Funding Formula After Three Years,” concludes with recommendations for policymakers and district leaders to reaffirm California’s commitment to LCFF, improve funding transparency and use LCFF to expand equitable opportunities in school districts.  

To see the full report, visit this Education Trust–West site. The Education Trust–West is the Oakland, CA-based office of the national nonprofit organization, based in Washington, D.C. For more information, visit the organization’s website.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].