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Saturday, Apr 27 2013 10:00 PM

CHRISTINE FRAZIER: A new funding model for next generation of students

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    Christine Frazier

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As public educators we have the privilege and honor of serving every single student, regardless of their ability, color, size, background and experience. One of the thrills of working in education is seeing all children learn and grow in individual and unique ways.

Just as local businesses struggle with overregulation from Sacramento that stifles their ability to do business, the education community's ability to serve students as individuals has been limited by a top-down approach and funding model where people in Sacramento control education funding by placing it into categorical programs that over time impede a student-focused approach to education. In addition, the current system has produced tremendous inequity where some districts receive double what other districts receive, based on geography, politics and outdated methodologies that have little to do with actual student needs.

The rise in categorical programs, while well-intentioned, means districts like the Bakersfield City School District, the largest elementary school district in the state, must operate 60 categorical programs (such as child care, administrator training and supplemental instructional programs) with varying requirements and regulations. In the meantime, costs such as transportation, a necessity in rural counties like Kern, remain unfunded, taxing the general fund of local districts.

The last major change to education funding in California happened in 1988 -- 25 years ago -- with the passage of Proposition 98. One of the unintended consequences of that well-intentioned voter initiative was to transfer most of the decision-making authority for our schools from local school boards to the Legislature in Sacramento. Only the responsibility for actually doing the work of educating our students remains in the local community. Unfortunately, this disconnect between Sacramento power and authority and local responsibility has only widened over 25 years.

This year, Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed a complete overhaul of education funding that I believe will provide greater equity in funding to California's school districts based on the differential costs of educating California's students. It will place the accountability for student achievement squarely where it belongs -- with locally elected school boards.

The governor bases his Local Control Funding Formula on a simple principle: The best public policy decisions are made by responsible decision-makers closest to an issue. I could not agree more and urge our local legislators to support his plan to level the playing field and ensure that funding is allocated based on the unique needs of students and not on 60 categorical programs developed by Sacramento legislators over the past 21/2 decades.

The governor's proposal ensures that no district in California will lose funding; however it also ensures that growth in future funding will be influenced by real factors that increase the cost of educating students, specifically the percentage of English-learner students and students living in poverty. This new formula more equitably funds school districts in counties like Kern, where 21 percent of our students are English learners (speaking more than 43 different languages) and where 69 percent of our children live in families that qualify for federal food assistance. In California overall, English-language learners and students in poverty make up 56 percent of the student population.

Kern's school districts are planning now for a changed funding model. Some of the immediate strategies being developed include restoring successful, evidence-based programs such as after-school tutoring and summer school, increasing targeted academic learning with an extended school year and/or a longer school day; creating smaller class sizes in targeted instructional areas; and finally, making academic interventions student- and outcome-driven, not compliance-driven.

Some of the longer-term strategies being considered by our local districts include intense subject training to increase teacher knowledge in specific areas; creative uses of instructional technology; and increased parent involvement in helping districts remain accountable for student outcomes.

As a former migrant resource teacher, categorical program director, principal and district superintendent in Kern County, I know first-hand the challenges our local school districts face in educating our students. Yet I also know that by refocusing our efforts, funding and accountability at the local level, we will be more responsive to the needs of students and ultimately help generate an educated workforce that increases our economic vitality. The Local Control Funding Formula is the first step in creating a more equitable and responsive education funding system that our students, parents and communities deserve.

Christine Lizardi Frazier has been the Kern County superintendent of schools since 2009.

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