Gov. Newsom Pressured to Fix Education Funding for English Learners

scathing audit on school funding that found the state did not meet promises made six years ago to help English language learners, foster children and students from poor families sets up a 2020 test of the clout of the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers – and of the willingness of Gov. Gavin Newsom to take on the unions who were early backers of his successful 2018 candidacy. 

State Auditor Elaine Howle’s review focused on how school districts in San Diego, Oakland and Clovis had implemented the Local Control Funding Formula, which was adopted by the Legislature in 2013 at the behest of then-Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor and then-Senate President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, were among several leaders who said the LCFF would be a game changer by getting additional assets to struggling students.

But Howle found instead that billions in extra funds the formula directed to districts with high percentages of English learners, foster kids and poor families had been used for general needs – including raises for teachers. She concluded there was little or no evidence that the LCFF had boosted these students’ performance.

“In general, we determined that the state’s approach [to Local Control] has not ensured that funding is benefiting students as intended,” Howle wrote.

Howle’s finding confirmed all the major criticisms of the formula that have been raised by education reformers and by civil rights lawyers who have repeatedly sued Los Angeles Unified over its treatment of poor minority students. 

Bill to track school funding couldn’t even get a hearing

But these groups have never gotten far with Local Control changes. Last spring, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, the San Diego Democrat who pushed for the audit, couldn’t even get Assembly Education Committee Chairman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, to hold a hearing on her bill to require disclosure of how LCFF dollars are being used.

Howle’s audit gives Weber new evidence to push for tracking such spending, and she has said fixing Local Control is her top priority in 2020. But O’Donnell, a former teacher who is close to the CTA and CFT, is unlikely to drop his opposition to tracking the funding.

A key question is likely to be what the governor does. While Newsom won the early endorsements of the two teacher unions, he spent the 2018 campaign telling editorial boards and the Los Angeles and Silicon Valley billionaires who back education reform that he too wanted to fix Local Control to ensure it helped struggling students and had proper accountability protections.

But any attempt to get school districts to stop spending LCFF dollars on teacher compensation – and on rapidly growing teacher pension costs – will go directly against the CTA and the CFT. They already see available school funding as inadequate and are both pushing for billions of dollars in tax hikes in two measures expected to be on the ballot in November 2020. They also won changes that will make it more difficult for charter schools to be approved or renewed using the argument that charters were diverting funding from regular public schools at a time when those schools are desperately underfunded. They are unlikely to accept the notion that the audit must be acted on.

Meanwhile, Newsom has so far used his political capital to advance an education reform that teachers unions also may question. But the reform – using metrics to track the performance of students throughout their K-12 journey – isn’t nearly as contentious as the state forcing many school districts to reorient their Local Control spending and stop using it for raises and pension bills.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com