Joint Committee to Develop a Master Plan for Education

Affordability of A High-Quality Education System

The Vision

In absolute dollars, California now invests more money in its public education system than any other state in the nation, by a considerable margin; but we also enroll considerably more students than any other state. We envision a system, however, in which we will be far less concerned about how California's investment compares to that of other states than we will about how well we are providing the resources we believe are necessary to make possible the education system we desire. Our annual appropriations for each level of education would be determined by our best estimates of what it costs to provide the educational resources that make a difference in promoting student achievement. We would fully expect all public schools, colleges, and universities to be efficient in their operations and use of public funds; but we would also realize that quality education is expensive. We would not expect public education to sacrifice effectiveness simply to achieve greater economy.

We would ground our educational goals in academic content standards and proficiency levels for student achievement, from preschool to lower division levels of postsecondary education. These academic standards would be reviewed on a regular cycle and adjusted as deemed appropriate for current and future state needs. We would use the findings of our own researchers and education providers, as well as those from other states and nations, to determine the components essential to the educational quality we envision, in which virtually every student would be prepared for success at each subsequent level of education and upon eventual transition to employment and/or postsecondary education, and to active participation in California society. We would affirm our belief that readiness for participation in California society would also prepare individuals for global involvement.

We would commit ourselves to providing adequate compensation, benefits, and working conditions that would position California to attract and retain education personnel with professional qualifications and attitudes that would match our vision of public education at all levels. We would modify our compensation schedules and reward systems to provide opportunities for increased compensation without requiring excellent teachers to leave the classroom or disproportionately devote their time to research unrelated to excellence in teaching and learning. We would earmark a modest proportion of state-funded research to advance our knowledge of what works in promoting learning and achievement among diverse student groups, in recognition of the fact that the greater public benefit derives from Californians who develop a disposition for learning and acquire from their educational experiences the tools of learning that enable them to continue to learn over a lifetime.

Our goals-based approach to financing public education would enable us to strike a better balance between state and local control over the use of education resources. The State would focus clearly on the academic achievement goals it wanted for all students and the resources necessary to achieve those goals, but would clearly understand that there is no single 'best way' to achieve those goals. We would therefore dramatically reduce state reliance on categorical allocation of funds. Rather, we would ensure that all education institutions had the base of funding determined to be adequate to achieve the goals established for them, and allow them to locally determine how best to use those funds to achieve the learner outcomes we expect. We would establish state standards for physical facilities, to ensure appropriate conditions for teaching and learning, and for teaching and administrative qualifications, to ensure all students are taught by qualified teachers. All education institutions would be run by educational leaders who understand how to maintain school cultures that are supportive of teaching and learning, knew how to evaluate achievement data, and emphasize continuous improvement. These educational leaders would also publicly report educational progress within their institutions to enable regular review and evaluation of both student achievement and institutional performance. The resources needed to gather and report appropriate data would be considered essential components of quality and would be built into the adequate base of funding.

All public schools, colleges, and universities would maintain an array of supplemental learning support designed to assist students in meeting the learning expectations we had for them at each level of public education. This support would include learning centers, academic tutoring, and supplemental instruction; it would also include use of technology to facilitate independent replication of problem solving, retrieval of lecture and/or lab notes after hours, accommodation of diagnosed disabilities, and embedded assessments to assist students in accelerating their learning. Professional staff would be available to assist students in grounding their learning in real-world contexts through service learning experiences, career exploration, internships, apprenticeships, and career and academic planning. These contextual learning opportunities, too, would be considered essential components and would be built into our base of adequate funding.

We would systematically upgrade and expand public education facilities through a combination of direct General Fund appropriations and issuance of General Obligation bonds. We would focus first on upgrading schools and colleges with the oldest facilities and with the facilities in the worst state of repair. Not only would this focus be both logical, and equitable to students and communities, it would contribute to satisfaction of our commitment to ensure that qualified teachers were available to teach students in every public school classroom, by ensuring they had modern, well-maintained campuses in which to teach. Like that of all states, California's economy would still be subject to good times and bad times. We would follow the advice of economists by using bonds to amortize the costs of facility construction and modernization, spreading their repayment across future generations whose children would derive the greatest benefits from the facilities. We would be mindful, however, that some of those future costs could be mitigated through direct appropriation of General Fund monies for facility needs when state revenues permitted, thereby avoiding financing costs to the State and on-going expenditures that would be more difficult to reduce during poor fiscal times.

We would reaffirm our state's long-standing commitment to providing Californians affordable access to public colleges and universities. We would adhere to the belief that students have an obligation to assume responsibility for paying a fair share of the costs of attending college. That share, after possible readjustments, would include health care, laboratory fees, intercollegiate athletics, and student services. Additional costs could be incurred by students who chose to reside on campus or park personal cars on campus. Any suggested increase in student fees would be based on increases in these costs and would be limited by changes in per capita family income. The State would assume responsibility for meeting increases in operational costs related to instruction and state-supported research. Changes in housing and parking costs would be annually communicated to students in writing and would be considered legitimate costs of attendance for which needy students could receive financial assistance, aswould other costs used to determine mandatory student fees. During times of poor economic conditions, state policymakers would negotiate with the governing boards of each public system to limit any increases in student fees and to balance trade-offs between enrollment growth, compensation increases, and investment in other quality education components.

We would be obligated to be prudent in the use of public funds, even for as important a state investment as public education. We would seek to carry out this responsibility in several ways. First, we would actively encourage schools, colleges, and universities to build and maintain linkages with businesses throughout the state. Business would be not only a consumer of education products but a provider itself. Business could also be far more responsive to innovation and change than education institutions, and could serve both as a harbinger of what education institutions might need to be responsive to in their delivery systems and as a source of access to near state-of-the-art equipment, as businesses made wholesale shifts to accommodate the latest advances in technology. The State would provide certain incentives to businesses to engage in such partnerships with education institutions.

Second, we would seek to take greater advantage of the impressive array of private and independent schools, colleges, and universities within California. At the postsecondary level, we would continue a long-standing commitment to providing financial assistance to Californians who choose to enroll in independent institutions rather than public colleges or universities. We would incorporate private, proprietary colleges and universities into our education system to ensure that students who choose to enroll in such institutions would have access to comparable quality in educational programs, enrollment in which, in turn, would qualify them for need-based financial assistance from state and federal sources.

Finally, we would center coordination of California's education institutions in the California Education Commission (CEC). The combination of direct interaction with representatives of preschool, K-12, and postsecondary education sectors; access to data maintained by the state's education sectors; and a focus on long-term planning by the CEC would facilitate efficient use of public resources and avoidance of undesirable duplication. We would reaffirm our belief that differentiation of function is more efficient than redundancy in function among California's education providers. Our mechanism for coordination would reflect this belief.

Our vision of California's education system would be expensive but efficient. We would steadily improve our understanding of the relationship between component costs and the goals we adopted for public education. A portion of the research capacity of this state would be continuously focused on this relationship to guide state policymakers in making difficult funding decisions when the State entered poor fiscal circumstances. Our clarity of vision and understanding of the relationship between education goals and their costs would also guide reinvestment decisions when economic times improved, so that we would reinvest in things that matter most rather than simply attempting to restore cuts or unrealized gains of the past.

What is Needed?

Funding for the basic K-12 educational program in California currently is distributed to districts in amounts that are similar for each student in the state, with additional, specifically targeted funding provided through separate programs to meet exceptional student needs. Districts receive an amount for each student that reflects an average of the costs of education across many students, but that average amount is derived from historical levels of education spending established at a particular point in time, rather than from any calculation of the actual costs of education, then or now.

This Master Plan envisions a fundamental change from a traditional focus of California's K-12 financing system on equality of funding - assuring that nearly all schools receive similar dollar amounts per student - to one of adequacy, in which the essential components (personnel, materials, equipment, and facilities) necessary for an exemplary education are identified and provided. With this foundation of adequate resources for a high-quality education, schools and students would be truly accountable formeeting established standards of achievement.

"While real per-pupil spending has increased steadily, as have efforts to enhance equity in spending, wide disparities still exist between groups of students."

--W. Norton Grubb and Luis A. Huerta 2001

Funding for postsecondary education, like that for K-12 education, is distributed in amounts that are similar for each full-time-equivalent (FTE) student enrolled in each public system, although the amounts vary significantly by system. State appropriations for public colleges and universities, for the most, part, do not recognize the cost differences of different disciplinary programs, the costs of responding to varied student learning support needs, or the cost differences associated with format (lecture, lab, seminar, and so on.) and level (lower division, upper division, or graduate) of instructional delivery.[66] Because enrollment in postsecondary education is not a fundamental right like K-12 enrollment, and because nearly all postsecondary students are 18 years old or older, the State does not strive to meet the full costs of operations for public colleges and universities through direct General Fund appropriations. A portion of the costs of operation for colleges and universities is met from federal and private grant funds, and another portion is met from fees charged to students. The State has a significant influence on the fees that are charged to students enrolling in public colleges and universities and, therefore, on the perceived accessibility and affordability of postsecondary enrollment for California's least-advantaged learners.

This Master Plan continues to support the goals embodied in the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education, which promoted broad access, affordability, and choice for Californians. When this historical perspective is coupled with an emphasis on promoting student achievement at all education levels, we believe that this Master Plan should seek to establish a postsecondary education financing system that supports the goals of (1) Access; (2) Affordability; (3) Quality; (4)Choice; (5) Efficiency; (6) Cooperation; (7) Accountability; and (8) Shared Responsibility.[67]

Funding for the programs and services needed to foster school readiness in every child comes from a myriad of state and federal sources and is not easily reduced to an allocation formula per child. In many cases little or no public resources are expended on developing the readiness of young children; in other cases, considerable funds are expended. This Master Plan envisions consolidating multiple funding streams to improve the adequacy of funding, to ensure that all parents and families who desire it have access to the services that will enable them to help their children become ready to learn upon enrollment in school.

PreK-12 Education

California's current K-12 finance structure is complex and highly restrictive in its determination of both revenue generation and expenditures. The State appropriates a substantial portion of district revenues for specific purposes and in doing so encumbers districts with multiple requirements as to how those funds may be used. The result of this longstanding pattern is a byzantine structure of education finance, including many dozens of specifically targeted budget appropriations, that impedes educators' flexibility to meet the comprehensive needs of individual students (to whom those funds are targeted). Moreover, the complexity of this structure precludes community members at large from understanding how their schools are funded, thereby eroding their capacity to support their schools and divorcing them from school decision-making. We therefore believe that simplification of the PreK-12 finance system must be an objective of this Master Plan. To achieve simplification, it is essential that thePreK-12 finance structure be understandable by parents, educators, policymakers, and the general public; and it must be aligned with the instructional, governance, and accountability structures of the public school system.