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  • Tony Wold, Ed.D.

The Real Story of CA School Funding – A Cautionary Tale (Part 3: The Implementation)

20-minute read time

We are back after a short, unexpected hiatus. Suffice it to say that the story involves a European vacation; one lost piece of luggage (which just happened to have the work computer); a canceled flight, and extra unexpected set of extra days across the Atlantic; and then the wonderful return present of bringing back the newest variant of coronavirus, and it is pretty transparent why it took a while to get to Part 3. What was supposed to be relaxing became another incident that reduces our bandwidth, similar to what was discussed in the first post of this blog.

If you missed Part 1 "The Foundation" or Part 2 "The Intent" please follow the hyperlinks to catch up and subscribe. In the first two parts of this blog, we explored the basic history of school finance and then took a deeper look at the intent of the reforms. With this foundation and understanding, Part 3 will go into detail on ten (10) factors that impact the flexibility of a budget. These are part of the data set that a Chief Business Official (CBO) uses to craft the budget for presentation to the board of education.

“Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden."


The title of this issue of the blog is a cautionary tale. School funding is entirely predicated on what the State of California, or in other states what the state or local governments levy upon taxpayers in a variety of forms. In California, the large upswings in education funding are the result of the top 1% of taxpayers having a good year.

There have been a variety of ways to state this, but I believe the easiest analogy is that when the rich get the sniffles educational funding suddenly contracts pneumonia. For many years the late Ron Bennett continued to preach “don’t use one-time funds on things that eat.” The one-time block grant in the 2022 - 2023 budget is $7.936 billion, which will be allocated based on unduplicated student counts. Using the recently certified data this will be approximately $2,151 per unduplicated ADA.

Without any shadow of a doubt, the adopted budget in California is good for education and provides increases to the base funding model. This begs the question, then, as to why during this great upswell of revenue are districts and Governor Newsome still cautious regarding State revenue and increasing expenditures?

The lack of adequate funding for the basics of education and the challenge our professional educators face to maintain a living wage in the areas that they work has forced school districts, and chief business officials to utilize these one-time funding sources for ongoing staff. The one-time funds allow boards of education to not have to make reductions at a time where the need for more educators is dire. This was explained in a previous post about the staffing shortages that are especially prevalent in rural areas and the bay area.

As we discussed in Parts 1 and 2, Jerry Brown advocated for local control of funding. The initial issuance of the CARES and ESSER funds announced that these funds were to maintain public education services during the pandemic. It was in 2020 and early 2021 that politicians in Washington D.C. lauded the restoration of public education with these Covid dollars. The hope was that things would get back to normal and reduce the impacts of learning loss. For funding-strapped school districts, however, these funds just allowed the lights to stay on the people that they employed to stay employed. The significant increase of 13% in LCFF funding is fantastic but does not yet address the fact that over 42% of every LCFF dollar allocated to school districts was spent just to pay for the retirement costs of STRS and PERS.

Fast forward to 2022 and the rules have changed and school districts across the nation, especially in California, are addressing multiple financial challenges that have not been clearly articulated and understood by our constituents or the legislators who pass the laws. It seems that bureaucracy sneaks in too many good intentions and the focus on compliance takes a front seat over the good that funds can do. Because of term limits and a very divided political landscape the implementation of programs and evaluation are not evenly aligned. This has created a challenging story to tell regarding the facts of how a school budget is built differently compared to how we naturally manage our own personal finances.

"Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

Winston Churchill

In a household budget, the source of funds is singular (your paycheck) and the uses of those funds are plural. Moreover, in our household budget, we must prioritize our expenditures and change behaviors or priorities if there is a shortfall. Abraham Maslow defined the hierarchy of needs, which very much is a foundation for the prioritization of a budget.

  • Food & Shelter (rent or mortgage) is a top priority that addresses our physiological and safety needs. This includes foundational expenses of utilities, clothing, personal care, and some form of transportation.

  • Family and Education help us to belong and grow in our esteem and cognitive needs. This also includes extracurricular activities, hobbies, interests, and memberships.

  • If funds remain the aesthetic aspects of our desires can be addressed with “upgrades” in transportation, housing, dining, clothing, and other material collections.