Parents lack knowledge of how their children’s schools are funded, new poll finds
More than half of the people surveyed by the PACE/USC Rossier poll—and nearly half of those with school-age kids—say they are unaware of the state’s Local Control Funding Formula
By Emily Gersema
Parents are among the many Californians who say they have not heard or read about the state’s school funding and accountability system that aims to increase public input in school spending decisions, according to the latest results of the annual PACE/USC Rossier School of Education poll.
Fifty-four percent of the registered voters who participated in the statewide poll said they were unaware of the Local Control Funding Formula. That is a slight improvement since 2015 when 65 percent of poll respondents had not heard about the law, but somewhat worse than 2014 when only 45 percent had not heard about it.
Enacted in 2013, the funding formula replaced a 40-year-old system that relied primarily on categorical funding for schools. It also gave new flexibility and a weighted student funding formula allocating additional tax dollars for high-needs students. It requires districts to engage their communities in spending decisions.
Thirty-five percent of the poll participants this year were parents with children under 18, most of them enrolled in public schools. Although those respondents seem to have the most at stake in school matters, nearly half (45 percent) said they had never heard or read about the law.
“The lack of awareness among Californians continues to raise serious questions about the implementation of one of the key tenets of the Local Control Funding Formula – meaningful stakeholder engagement in the development of district goals and decisions around resource allocation,” said Julie Marsh, a co-director of the nonpartisan Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), researcher for the poll and an associate professor of education at USC Rossier School of Education.
She added: ”Without awareness, it will be hard to encourage participation, and without participation, how can districts ensure that all voices are heard? Low numbers of aware and watchful citizens also compromises accountability for achieving the policy’s equity goals.”
Among those who are aware of the law, support is high–63 percent (versus 24 percent opposed)–and is strongest among Democrats (74 percent) and among young voters aged 18 to 29 (74 percent).
“It’s good to see that voters support the goals of the Local Control Funding Formula,” said Karen Symms Gallagher, dean of the USC Rossier School of Education. “We’re already seeing a real, positive change from this policy, and school leaders need to make sure that their local communities know that as well.”
The school finance law allocated more money to districts that have more English-language learners, low-income students, foster children and homeless children and provided districts with greater flexibility over spending. When respondents were informed of this, 71 percent said they favored the policy, as did 71 percent who were parents with children in school and 76 percent of parents without school-aged children.
The state funding formula system was designed to encourage more community member involvement in district resource decisions. However, 88 percent of the respondents said they were unaware of public meetings or events where they could help set goals, provide input into spending, review their school’s progress and/or develop its Local Control and Accountability Plan.
Districts are required to involve the public in making and reviewing those plans, which guide them in fulfilling state priorities, such as improving college readiness and student performance. The plans aim to increase engagement with students, their families and communities, and create a healthy learning environment.
More than 60 percent of voters said they want to be involved in decision-making at their local school, such as helping their local public school set goals and in reviewing the school’s progress, and helping to decide how best to allocate resources to advance their school’s goals. They were equally interested in assisting their local school district in these ways.
However, very few voters–just 5 percent–have done so. Attendance was only slightly higher among parents (9 percent) and parents with children in school (11 percent) who said they participated in any meetings related to the policy.
Voters with no interest in participating in school or district decision-making gave a few reasons: chiefly that they have no children in school, followed by a lack of information and experience about school issues and no time to participate.
Many indicated a sense of disillusionment with school and district leadership: 91 percent of the respondents said that school board members should consult with voters and parents regularly, “not just at election time,” and 80 percent were concerned that “too often school leaders don’t seek the input of parents and the community” when making decisions.
“This problem is not a new one,” Marsh said. “Civic engagement in general faces a similar set of challenges. If voters are truly interested in participating, as they say here, then we need to find better ways of pulling them in and supporting districts to do so.”
Most California registered voters–69 percent–said they would approve a statewide ballot proposal, Proposition 55, that would extend for 12 years an income tax increase on individuals earning $250,000 or more per year.
Since 2012, the tax has generated $4 billion to $9 billion per year in additional revenue for public schools, community colleges and, in certain years, up to $2 billion for health care for needy families. The tax increase ranges from 1 percent to 3 percent, depending on the individual’s income.
Sixty-two percent of the voters said they believe increasing funding for schools and reforming operations are critical for improving public education. Their support comes with strings: 96 percent said they believe public schools and districts should be held accountable for spending education dollars efficiently.
“Our results suggest that California voters see some improvements in their local schools,” said Morgan Polikoff, associate professor of USC Rossier School of Education and a researcher behind the poll. “What these results indicate is that voters want to keep funding schools to sustain these improvements. However, voters are also saying that money alone won’t solve our education challenges—accountability must be an important part of the improvement effort.”
The PACE/USC Rossier Poll is a survey of 1,202 registered California voters and was conducted Aug. 23-30 by Tulchin Research and Moore Information. The online poll allowed respondents to complete the survey on a desktop or laptop computer, tablet or smartphone. The poll was conducted in English and Spanish. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.83 percentage points.
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