Legislation Update August: Weighted Student Formula Lives to Fight Another Day

Before the Legislature left Sacramento for their Summer break in early July, they passed the final budget trailer bills to the governor, which he signed, completing work on the 2012-13 state budget. It is interesting to see which of the governor's policy proposals he did not realize in the final budget deal. As advocates who have watched many state budgets over the years, we are used to seeing governor's of the same party as the majority the legislature get nearly all of what they propose in their budgets. That did not happen in 2012.

Instead, the legislature rejected nearly all of the governors major education policy proposals. This included the governor's proposal to eliminate the transitional kindergarten mandate, the elimination of home-to-school transportation funding, a number of proposals expanding charter school authority, and most importantly, the elimination of a majority of categorical programs in an effort to create a weighted student formula (WSF).

Of course, the proposal that CAWS was watching and involved with the most was WSF, which would have eliminated IB professional development grant funding from the Education Code without making other changes in law to ensure that IB programs remained a viable option for students in California. While CAWS is not opposed the concept of the weighted student formula, we continue to advocate for a version of the weighted concept that creates the appropriate incentives for schools to continue offering IB as an option.

While the governor's efforts to rewrite the school finance system were stopped in 2012, we expect the governor to revise some version of this proposal in 2013. Those familiar with the negotiations around WSF expect the governor to revise an almost identical proposal in 2013 if voters pass his proposed November tax. However, we think that he will propose some version of the WSF next year - no matter the outcome in November. His advisors on this topic fundamentally believe the state's system of financing public education is broken and that a complete rewrite based upon a weighted concept is the only way to move money around the state in a "fair" way (taking money away from some to pay others). However, that approach is exactly why we think the proposal is fundamentally flawed, politically. As long as there are enough vocal losers, this proposal will be very difficult, if not impossible, to implement. The education community has drawn a line in the sand that says unless the governor can find a way to level up (without leveling down others), the WSF will not get much support.

Another major element of this debate is the legislature's interest in linking changes to the state's assessment and accountability system to WSF. This effort appears to be widely supported in the education community and something CAWS has been actively engaged with in Sacramento. This conversation will continue in 2013, we think under the leadership of Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. The idea is that if the state is going to upend the current system of funding schools using input controls (categorical funding) and instead move to an outputs control system (WSF), then the state must revise the outputs measurements system to more appropriately measure those aspects of the state's education system that ensures all students are receiving an appropriately challenging education. Otherwise, students will be ignored, options will become limited, and the state will largely be teaching students to reach mediocrity.

We look forward to working with CAWS and other education groups in the next legislative session to actively engage the policymakers in Sacramento on the merits of WSF and the necessary changes to the state's assessment and accountability systems to make it a successful system for all students.

Barrett Snider
Capitol Advisors Group, LLC.

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