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GETTING DOWN TO FACTS: California School Finance Study Calls for Mix of Additional Money and Reform

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“California’s schools may require substantially more resources to meet student achievement goals,” said Susanna Loeb

Providing a quality education for all of California’s students will require a mix of significant new money combined with comprehensive reform in the state’s education governance and finance systems. So says Getting Down to Facts, a collection of reports that were requested by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (R) Advisory Committee on Education Excellence.

Exactly how much additional money would be needed differed among the studies. In one, Jon Sonstelie, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, suggests that even with a 40 percent increase in spending, more than half of California’s schools would still fall short of the state’s goal score of 800 on its Academic Performance Index.

“California’s schools may require substantially more resources to meet student achievement goals,” said Susanna Loeb, associate professor at Stanford University and the leader of the research project. “But the research findings of all 22 studies are clear: that to have an impact, increased funding must go hand-in-hand with reforms.”

Although they used different methodologies, researchers came to similar conclusions on what kinds of reforms were needed. Among their suggestions were that the state give local schools more flexibility in their use of funding, remove barriers that make it difficult to fire ineffective teachers, and improve data collection so that officials can determine whether the money they are spending is making any difference.

“This research provides the most comprehensive information to date on what it will take to improve student achievement for all students,” said Christy Pichel, president of the Stuart Foundation, one of the project’s funders. “Whether policymakers use this information to improve student achievement is something all Californians will be watching very closely.”

Getting Down to Facts includes twenty-two studies by more than thirty researchers from the nation’s leading universities and research institutions. Funding support was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, and the Stuart Foundation. The project represents the latest chapter in California’s school finance debate that began over thirty-five years ago when the California Supreme Court said that education was a fundamental right under the state’s constitution. That decision is generally regarded as the first of the modern-day education finance litigation decisions.

The full set of twenty-two studies, as well as an overview paper, is available at http://irepp.stanford.edu/projects/cafinance.htm.

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