Another school year is over, another public education marathon has been run. 2012-2013 will be remembered in California for: a dramatic change in public education funding that survived intense debate even within the public school community, fraught federal elections, and a new national level of militancy on the part of teachers, parents and students. The next school year will have some familiar aspects to it, but a definite sea change has taken place—conditions around us have changed making it impossible to predict exactly what will happen where and what the impact will be here in San Francisco.

No crystal ball is required to know that for the foreseeable future funding will be a major education issue. While still not at the relatively robust budget levels of decades past, California’s public schools balance sheets did receive a major boost with the passage of Proposition 30, which will raise overall revenues in the state. Increasing California’s revenues is crucial if there is any possibility of ensuring the availability of basic social services, but debates over how to distribute that money are just as essential to determining what those services will actually be.


That battle is underway now and will continue after school lets out. Governor Brown has made a strong financial commitment to K-12 in his May budget revision, including increasing funding based on increased expected revenues. As the California Budget Project (CBP) describes in their analysis of the Governor’s revised budget, a significant portion of deferred funding from the Proposition 98 guarantee will be restored, as well as increases in other areas for Common Core implementation and the Governor’s new general education funding model. What the newly revised budget does not do however, is to restore the serious cuts made to human services such as MediCal, low-income child care provision, or the CalWorks family aid program. These continued cuts hurt our most vulnerable families—which means they hurt public schools too. While it is relief to know that California’s classrooms will finally begin to see some much needed increased financial support, that support comes at a price. Once again we are on a path that separates education from other human rights—this is not the path we should be on. Our strongest move would be to try to spread the financial resources across these services. Figuring out how to advocate for both our schools and these other areas of need that are so important will be an important task for public education supporters in the coming school year.

One of the new areas in which Brown is proposing to increase education funding is in direct financial support for students, via his new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which puts forward a new simplified and streamlined approach to the distribution of money the state allocates to its schools. Brown’s LCFF has generated fierce support and fierce debate, with some State Senators pushing an alternative to Brown’s LCFF in SB 69, authored by State Senator Carol Liu (D-La Canada Flintridge with California Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg as a co-author. SB 69’s major difference from Brown’s LCFF proposal is that it eliminates Brown’s “Concentration Grants” that provide increased funding to districts with over 50% low-income or English Language Learner students. Elected officials from districts not meeting that threshold have argued that students in these districts will not receive sufficient funding and that their proposal will increased the overall base grant for all students. This argument doesn’t recognize the vast inequities that exist across districts. The LCFF is an effective way to begin addressing that imbalance while at the same time setting us on a course to rationalize and increase funding for all students.

The near universal recognition of the need for simplification of California school funding as well as greater equity of that funding make the passage of some variation of LCFF likely to be passed. The debate over the differences between the Governor’s and the Senate proposals is not insignificant, but it is only one of the pieces of this change that public education supporters need to keep their eye on. One of the advantages of LCFF is that it extracts the state from complex implementation components and focuses state attention on outcomes. The flip side of this is that districts have more independence and responsibility for ensuring that the needs of all students are being addressed, without targeted funding and related oversight programmatically requiring them to do so. By extension, this creates an additional responsibility for public education supporters to ensure that the educational needs of all students actually are being fairly addressed. Simplification of funding distribution will make it more feasible for community members to track how money is allocated and how it is actually spent, but the job is still complex, especially since there is no simple and straight line between spending money and the evaluation of how well students are doing. The specifics of how this accountability will occur have been essentially left to the community. Devising ways to effectively play that role, and sharing that knowledge with each other throughout California, will also be a major task for public education supporters in the upcoming school year.

Governor Brown’s revised budget also includes targeted funding in support of the new national Common Core standards and associated tests--$1 billion or about $170 per student. SFUSD has a phased implementation plan that targets full use of Common Core in the 2014-2015 school year. This gradual approach makes sense for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that there are many concerns about how the standards are being articulated in educational materials, related assessments and tests, and who is the overall beneficiary of this initiative. Philosophical discussion of the merits of national standards aside, according to those involved in the creation of the Common Core, some of the poor implementation choices have been the result of a sloppy reading of the standards. That argument seems likely, but it points to a larger problem—that we’re quick to push the latest strategy down the throats of students and teachers as opposed to thinking about how and why we’re actually pursuing any given solution.

One would think that the unproven and ultimately devastating effects of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) would have been an object lesson in such a tactic, especially with 2014 fast approaching, the deadline by which 100% of all children in the United States are meant to be reading at a “proficient” level. However that assumes that the quality of our children’s education is really the central focus of these policy initiatives. With Arne Dunce calling for increased efforts on the behalf of the private sector in order to raise support for the Common Core, the expansion of the education sector corporate trough appears to be a primary, albeit slightly veiled, goal.

Preparing for the upcoming NCLB disaster and looking closely at Common Core and what it can and can’t do for our students will be a new way for public education supporters across the country to connect and forge alliances. We have begun to see that already with the exciting actions in communities from Seattle to Texas to Chicago, where parents are opting their children out of tests they see as harmful, teachers with the support of parents have eliminated inaccurate tests and won the right to substitute meaningful assessments, and communities are fighting back with strikes and lawsuits to win sufficiently resourced classrooms and to defeat suspect school closures. These actions have developed out of authentic community concerns, unlike the efforts that have been staged and produced by the likes of Michelle Rhee.

The connections across parent-teacher-student divisions that have developed in Chicago and Seattle and the broadening of the critique past the standardized testing issue are the most promising and exciting developments to occur in the public education world in a long time. San Francisco has not been in the center of this new movement, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be. When school starts up again this fall, after looking to the immediate needs of our children, our next most important task will be to see how we can work together to bring this new movement for change into our own city.

Lisa Schiff is the parent of two children in the San Francisco Unified School District and is a member of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco.