State Education Funding Driven by Politics Not Children’s Needs

Jeff Rice
Jeff Rice is founder/director of the Association of Personalized Learning Schools & Services (APLUS+)

When it comes to education funding this year you need to know that it’s not about the children. It’s about politics.

Nothing proves that more than the recent proposal by Governor Newsom’s Department of Finance (DOF) that would deny students who want to attend personalized learning public charter schools the same funding that students attending traditional and classroom-based charter schools receive.

This new “policy” is wrong at its core, not only because it violates the long-held policy that “funding should follow the student,” but it is morally wrong to punish students simply because they have chosen a different learning path.

Governor Newsom’s DOF should consider the children whose education will be shortchanged. They need to immediately pull back their ill-advised proposal and come back with an equitable policy that supports ALL California schoolchildren.

The DOF proposal is a failure because it is based in the political fear of upending the status quo: the state’s traditional brick-and-mortar schools. This politically motivated rationale is rooted in the fear that if students and their parents choose a personalized learning approach and stay in that model it could impact future funding for traditional schools.

And because its genesis is political, not based on sound education policy, the proposal has no logical foundation. The DOF proposal does not consider the socioeconomic status, demographics, educational abilities or life circumstances of the students who attend personalized learning public charter schools. It fails to consider the large number of students who attend these schools because they have special needs, are homeless, suffer from mental health challenges, are several grade levels behind or are pregnant teens. And, it ignores the fact that some students who did not do well in traditional public schools perform much better in a personalized learning environment.

There was hope for a short period of time after the original education budget trailer bill (SB 98) passed. At the outset all growing schools were shortchanged by the new funding allocation and there was hope that the state would right its wrong and provide equal funding for all public schoolchildren. But now the DOF amendments would provide growth enrollment funding for traditional schools and classroom based public charter schools but NOT non-classroom based public charter schools. They have put forth a discriminatory policy, picking winners and losers among our state’s public schools and students.

What does this say about the long-held values that have guided educational policy – values such as “funding should follow the student,” “parental choice is necessary to determine what is best for each student,” and “children with special needs may require a different approach.” The DOF proposal suggests the state is willing to set aside those values and cherry pick which students deserve funding.

Finally, consider the irony in Governor Newsom’s DOF proposal. At a time when students, parents, teachers, and school administrators are overwhelmed with their schools converting to distance learning, their proposal excludes growth funding for the one segment of public schools that have a proven track record of successfully providing quality education through both distance learning and alternative settings.

This flies in the face of Governor Newsom’s own statement to the Legislature when signing SB 98, requesting that they find a “targeted solution” to help displaced families subject to the cap. Instead, the DOF proposal is a targeted attack solely against non-classroom based charter schools which seamlessly continued teaching tens of thousands of students amidst the COVID crisis throughout the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.

This illogical policy proposal is the reason so many people are frustrated with the current education system. It reveals the reality that politics is impacting the education of students and damaging the equitable foundation of educational funding.

Personalized learning public charter schools are not asking for the state to diminish traditional classroom education or take funding away from those schools. We believe that all public schools should be funded equally, period – and no student should be penalized for learning better under a different public school approach.

The Legislature has only one week to determine whether it is willing to let Governor Newsom’s DOF impose discriminatory educational policies or whether they will require that all public schoolchildren be treated fairly and reject the DOF proposal. We trust they will put the needs of their very youngest constituents over politics and will make the right decision for the people of California.

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