State laws and funding formulas must better support the realities of instructional and oversight needs
Adjusting state funding parameters to appropriately fund the instructional needs of every student is another necessary step in creating a stable educational structure for all students. Fixing flawed state laws that limit districts’ options across the state will also allow districts to better fulfill their obligation to protect the best interests of students enrolled in both district and charter schools.
State Recommendation 1: Fund Special Education and English Language Learners based on actual costs of instruction
Funding based on actual cost of instruction of SPED students would take into account the fact that district-run schools instruct far more of the highest-need special education students than their independent charter counterparts overall. Providing the same amount of funding for every special education student ignores the reality that different students require different levels of academic support to access the education they deserve.
The state should also ensure that every independent charter school is prepared to accommodate, instruct, and support all special education students that wish to enroll. The fact that independent charter schools overall do not serve the same profile of special education students as their district-run counterparts is cause for concern and should be thoroughly investigated. That English Language Learner (ELL) funding mirrors the SPED funding loophole that ignores actual cost of instruction creates the same perverse incentive to underserve the students with the highest needs.
In 2014-15 bargaining, UTLA put forward the proposal that the district require and publish annual reports that identify schools that serve substantially lower percentages of special populations; mandatory reporting of student suspensions, expulsions, and dismissals; and investigations in cases where more than a certain percentage of special population students leave during a single year. These prudent ideas should be implemented statewide to protect all students.
State Recommendation 2: Provide districts with across-the-board “soft landing” protection
The state already recognizes the fact that adjusting costs to reflect enrollment realities takes time. Consequently, the State should treat all departing students the same for funding purposes. District students should not be penalized by state funding formulas that do not allow districts the appropriate time to adjust costs to meet new enrollment figures. The district should also create a system to quantify movement from district schools to charter schools so that loss of funding can be anticipated and accounted for in the budgeting process.
State Recommendation 3: Inform the community of the economic and educational impact of each proposed new charter school
As the stakeholders that will be affected by the educational ramifications of changes to the system; and as the taxpayers that fund both district and charter schools, the community should be made aware of the potential positive and negative effects of any proposed new school. Much as environmental impact statements are already required under US environmental law for certain actions that significantly affect “the quality of the human environment”, economic and educational impact statements should be required for actions that significant affect the quality of the educational environment. These economic and educational impact statements should be used to encourage communication, cooperation, and informed decision-making between all the stakeholders affected by educational decisions, including parents, students, teachers, district officials, and charter school operators.