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Is Gov. Brown Right to Dole Out Money to Marin's Public Schools Unequally?

Compare per-student funding for Marin County schools. You may be surprised.

This is what California public education looks like after the Great Recession: 

Between 2007 and 2010, the number of teachers in the state's K-12 classrooms shrunk by 11 percent. Reading specialists, librarians, and other school employees helping students learn declined by 14 percent. Front offices took the hardest blow, with the number of administrators dropping by 16 percent. All these cuts hit schools even as the total enrollment held steady at around 6.2 million students. 

Now that California is looking at its first budget without a deficit in five years, Gov. Jerry Brown's budget calls for restoring some money to the state's public schools. But, he does not want to distribute the money equally.

[For differences in revenues between Marin County school districts during the 2010-11 school year, see the tables at the bottom of this article.]

"Aristotle said, 'Treating unequals equally is not justice.' And people are in different situations. Growing up in Compton or Richmond is not like it is to grow up in Los Gatos or Beverly Hills or Piedmont," Brown said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

There are already big differences in the sums school districts get from the state.

Consider two very different communities in Marin, Mill Valley and Novato. In the 2010-11 school year, the Mill Valley School District received $10,895 for every student. The Novato Unified School District received $8,575 per student.

But while $3,908 of Novato's per-student funding came from the state, Mill Valley received negative-$25 per student due to so-called state "take-backs." That’s largely because of the different revenue structures for those two districts. As a basic aid district, Mill Valley receives the lion's share of its revenue, or $5,604 per student, from local property taxes. It also receive $4,443 per student from its annual parcel tax, which was increased by voters in the November 2012 election.

By contrast, Novato is a revenue limit district, receiving nearly half of its revenue from the state.

Under Gov. Brown's proposed budget, which has $3 billion more than last year for K-12 and community colleges, underprivileged schools would get more per-student funding than other schools. That means that funding would be weighted towards those schools with higher percentages of English language learners and the number of students who receive federally subsidized lunches for low-income residents, according to Marin County Office of Education officials.

The differences in those areas within Marin are stark.

For instance, while the Ross Valley Elementary School District recorded 3.1 percent English Learners in the 2009-2010, the San Rafael City Elementary District recorded 51.5 percent English Learners.

"Our future depends not on across-the-board funding, but disproportionately funding those schools that have disproportionate challenges," Brown said in a press conference last week. 

Will Gov. Brown's proposed shift in funding be enough to bridge the economic gap that contributes to the achievement gap? Does more money improve student performance? 

Dixie (San Rafael) Elementary SD Revenue for 2010-11 Source $ Amount per student % Statewide average for elementary school districts State Aid -$147
0% Local Property Taxes $6,273 317% Federal Revenue $373 40% Other State Revenue $801 54%
Other Local Revenue (includes parcel taxes) $2,100 286% Total $9,400 111%

Mill Valley Elementary School District Revenue for 2010-11

Source $ Amount per student % Statewide average for elementary school districts State Aid -$25
0% Local Property Taxes $5,604 283% Federal Revenue $316 34% Other State Revenue $556 38% Other Local Revenue (includes parcel taxes) $4,443 605% Total $10,895 129% Novato USD Revenue for 2010-11 Source $ Amount per student % Statewide average for unified school districts State Aid $3,908 114% Local Property Taxes $1,378 71% Federal Revenue $550 49% Other State Revenue $1,187 60% Other Local Revenue (includes parcel taxes) $1,552 292% Total $8,575 95% Ross Valley Elementary SD Revenue for 2010-2011 Source $ Amount per student % Statewide average for elementary school district State Aid $3,672 110% Local Property Taxes $1,539 78% Federal Revenue $287 31% Other State Revenue $965 65% Other Local Revenue (includes parcel taxes) $2,197 299% Total $8,660 102% San Rafael City Elementary SD Revenue for 2010-11 Source  $ Amount per student % Statewide average for elementary school districts State Aid $3,474 104% Local Property Taxes $1,594 81% Federal Revenue $894 96% Other State Revenue $1,660 112% Other Local Revenue (includes parcel taxes) $1,665 227% Total $9,286

110%

San Rafael City High School District Revenue for 2010-11 Source $ Amount per student % Statewide average for high school districts State Aid $60
2% Local Property Taxes $9,702 308% Federal Revenue $578 65% Other State Revenue $370 25% Other Local Revenue (includes parcel taxes) $2,092 295% Total $12,802

131%

Tamalpais Union High SD Revenue for 2010-11
Source $ Amount per student % Statewide average for high school districts State Aid -$69 0% Local Property Taxes $11,792 374% Federal Revenue $395 44% Other State Revenue $529 35% Other Local Revenue (includes parcel taxes) $3,595 507% Total $16,241 167%

Source: California Department of Education, Ed-Data

Novato Chess Club January 16, 2013 at 03:09 PM
More money does not improve student performance, proportionately---but more study and structure will. Rich kids are running the country, so money is not the issue. Look how "they" function in real the real society. Poorly educated kids generally come from poor structure in the home...and the educated kids turnout to be the sellouts of America...(only in the game for themselves) The idea that youth are achieving in work ethic, drive, determination, effort is a lie--even if they have good grades----these issues cannot be bought with mo' money
Novato Chess Club January 16, 2013 at 03:10 PM
More money does not improve student performance, proportionately---but more study and structure will. Rich kids are running the country, so money is not the issue. Look how "they" function in the "society." Poorly educated kids generally come from poor structure in the home...and the educated kids turnout to be the sellouts of America...(only in the game for themselves) The idea that youth are achieving in work ethic, drive, determination, effort is a lie--even if they have good grades----these issues cannot be bought with mo' money
Ralph Canine January 16, 2013 at 04:20 PM
I am a retired educator. Money is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for narrowing the achievement gap. Here's a brief list of policy initiatives that are more important than money to improve educational achievement among disadvantaged students: 1.) Improve teacher's classroom management skills and create an administrative environment that supports classroom management. Out-of-control classrooms make students feel unsafe and emotionally distressed. 2.) Permit more charter schools. Parents are more supportive of schools when they feel that they are real stakeholders, not just passive recipients of whatever the bureaucracy pushes on them. 3.) Allow teachers more say in the curriculum. English language learners need a daily double period of English, with emphasis on abstract vocabulary -- conceptual words with Greek and Latin roots. 4.) Coordinate school safety procedures between the principal and local law enforcement with the goal of preventing gang infiltration of the student body. When students feel safe at school, and when they're not pressured into entry level gang activities, the drop out rate will decline.
Amy Oclassen January 16, 2013 at 04:35 PM
I applaud the governor for trying to distribute state funding in such a way that the overall funding of all schools is more equal. Clearly, those higher wealth districts in our county that receive most of their funding from property taxes (and have fewer ELL and low income families) have less need of additional state funding than districts in San Rafael and Novato who do have a higher proportion of these families, creating specific targeted needs while receiving less overall funding per student. Seems absolutely fair and reasonable to me.
Amy Oclassen January 16, 2013 at 04:39 PM
Also must say I agree with Ralph's comments - but I would add that with a greater proportion of Novato's funding coming from the state, we have been hit much harder over the past 7 or so years of continual budget cuts, so while money is not a panacea, continually being asked to do more with less is definitely detrimental and equalizing funding is a worthy goal.
Tina McMillan January 16, 2013 at 05:04 PM
Novato is NOT a "Basic Aid" district. Basic Aid districts have sufficient property tax revenue to cover education costs. Novato is a "Low Wealth" district. It receives money from the state to bring its ADA up to the bare minimum that the state determines necessary. Novato carries a much larger share of real estate that has a diverse socioeconomic range. Novato has never been a Basic Aid district; the mix of rural but high priced county properties with suburban properties with values that range from low to high, makes Novato more affordable to the majority of homeowners. The county collects the taxes on properties that fall outside Novato city limits. http://www.reedschools.org/cms/lib2/CA01001640/Centricity/Domain "What is a basic aid district? A basic aid district is one whose local property taxes meet or exceed its revenue limit. A basic aid district keeps the money from local property taxes and still receives the constitutionally guaranteed state basic aid funding. Out of California’s nearly 1,000 elementary, high school, and unified school districts, approximately 80 are basic aid districts. However, this number changes from year to year as local property tax revenues and enrollments fluctuate. A district can be a revenue limit district one year and basic aid the next." School Funding In CA /201/School%20Funding%20in%20CA%20%20Basic%20Aid%20Funding--V%20%20Alvarez.pdf
Amy Oclassen January 16, 2013 at 05:04 PM
Last point: extra funding is only going to districts that have over 50% ELL and FRL enrollments - Novato has been told we do not qualify, so our funding inequity will stand.
Tina McMillan January 16, 2013 at 05:19 PM
For decades Novato and other low wealth districts have suffered because their property tax base is insufficient to cover costs of education. In these cities there are larger numbers of ED and ELL students. Federal Title I funding helps to some degree but not enough to overcome the challenges associated with poverty and English as a second language. Novato has one elementary school that has been in PI for seven calendar years. PI or Program Improvement is a federal designation that says you are not making sufficient academic progress with socioeconomically disadvantaged students and English language learners. When you look at funding for Sausalito/Marin city, in 2009/2010 they got nearly three times the funds that Novato received. Just last year Governor Brown ended state funding of AB3632 which in 1984 was created to provide mental health services through Community Mental Health Agencies for students whose learning was impacted by mental health issues. Now schools are expected to carry this responsibility entirely on their own. California schools have struggled with the economic downturn and the Governor's choice to cut funding. Prop 30 shifts responsibility to cities and counties and away from the state. Low Wealth school districts provide a larger share of low income housing than Basic Aid school districts. This single element makes school funding even more dire due to No Child Left Behind mandates. Nobody wins with the current funding mechanisms.
Jim Welte January 16, 2013 at 05:20 PM
Thanks Tina. I mistakenly mislabeled MV and Novato. I've made the correction in the story. Thanks again for pointing that out.
Tina McMillan January 16, 2013 at 05:56 PM
Thank you for writing this article. If you have access to the stats for the other cities it would really help to see the vast range of funding per student. You may also want to describe the ADA process. It means you get paid based on last years attendance figures. Can you imagine running any other business on who shows up rather than the cost of who is registerred? Some of the missing state money is money that was withheld following the Sub Prime Mortgage crisis. The state decided one way to stave off bankruptcy was on the backs of the school districts by withholding their money for a year and then only reimbursing them in part. Novato has a dwindling 4% reserve. The state requires 3%. Novato is currently running at a $3.3 million dollar structural deficit by maintaining its reserve. NUSD refuses to look at other options such as magnet, charter conversion and charter schools which all have additional funding sources to make up for lost revenue. We need to continue to write about and read about the inequities in education funding as well as the ultimate consequence of eliminating AB3632. Sandy Hook is a consequence of a individual that was mentally unstable. Since our state no longer funds mental health treatment through our schools the likelihood that children will go under treated or untreated increases. Thanks again for a great article.
Avanti Monty January 16, 2013 at 07:06 PM
Tina you are very knowledgeable and involved concerning school funding . I have a question you might be able to answer . How will low low income housing impact Novato's schools ?
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr January 17, 2013 at 12:46 AM
Of course it is okay for governor moonbeam to be unequal in distribution of school funds. That is what the 1964 Civil Rights Act required. Oops. I got that wrong. The Civil Rights Act mandated equal treatment/funding. 2009 figures, average for K-12 students was $13,000 per year. Non-English speakers received $17,000. That means that your English speaking children got about $9,000 in educational services. in 2009, Hispanics were 50.4% of the K-12 enrollment. That means that non-Hispanic Caucasians are a minority in California schools. That was the last year that the California Department of Education published statewide statistics. Why? Because transparency only applies to what they want you to know. Gov moonbeam is a social engineer. He will engineer California and California education to his social goals, not to the benefit of YOU. That is why California education is variously rated as 41st, 49th, and 50th among the states. Social engineering disadvantages the meritorious student, thus they flee to private schools, re-segregating metropolitan school systems. Gov moonbeam will not stop until Marin schools look like Richmond/Oakland/Pomona schools. You elected them. I did not.
Kathleen Duich January 17, 2013 at 05:10 AM
I believe that moonbeams are a proven phenomena. "Light that reaches the earth from the moon", and all that. Grateful for children from less fortunate circumstances getting some extra light. They need it. Which means, we all need it.
Lloyd January 17, 2013 at 06:04 AM
NUSD is the only district in the County according to the article that receives well below the state average. If it is true that the Governor has decided not to provide relief to the poorest district in this County that has a significant ell population only reinforces my belief that we can never trust a word that comes out of Sacramento's mouth. California appears to be doomed to a social engineering agenda at the expense of diverse communities such as ours without regard. It is discriminatory and the citizens of Novato should come together and reject any State mandates. If we could we would be better off keeping our property taxes and telling the State to stick it. After all turn about is fair play.
Tina McMillan January 17, 2013 at 07:20 AM
There are different kinds of low income housing. Some come with property taxes because they are sold as BMR or Below Market Rate. However, much of the extremely low income housing is owned by non profits who rent out the units. These pay no property taxes. Wyndover is an example of a poorly managed property that creates costs but provides no revenue. AH developers will argue that the tenants make local purchases and increase sales tax revenue but this small contribution is not enough to balance the costs associated with housing. Novato can not compete with southern Marin basic aid cities. They have a property tax base that is strong enough to take care of local schools. We are struggling just to keep our heads above water and worse, when parents try to make a difference by creating a public charter, the district makes no attempt to work with these families. Some low income rentals care for populations that do not put stress on schools. These are units used by the elderly, by disabled adults and other groups that do not have children. Novato's market rate housing is the most reasonable in the county. We must address the need to support schools, to repair roads, to balance pension obligations and to realize that as generous as Novato is with local non profits we can only afford to do so much unless there are other revenue sources that balance out the costs.
Tina McMillan January 17, 2013 at 07:33 AM
Most districts get additional funding for High Schools. Our district is all inclusive. What we get per student is far less compared to our southern Marin neighbors. The state withheld some of our revenue just as it did everyone elses. We have been running schools on a shoestring for a long time. That is why we lose up to 25% of our teachers once they are trained. Magnet, Charter Conversion and Charter are one way out of this dilemma. All three access additional funding and provide more specific curriculum choices. In Moorpark they turned to all schools of choice and got over $1.3 million in grants to pay for facility upgrades. NUSD closed Hill and now they are talking about increasing K through 3 class size, shortening the school year and closing another elementary school. We must begin to think outside the proverbial box if we want to make needed changes. Staying the same means continuing to fall further and further behind.
bond January 21, 2013 at 02:48 PM
re: NUSD Budget Concerns: Perhaps, it would be a good idea to change the NUSD's revenue limit status, to basic aid. It is understood, that this would be a herculean task; however, it would be far better than throwing tax dollars at yet another "public subsidized" private school...
Tina McMillan January 21, 2013 at 05:27 PM
bond You can't choose to be basic aid; your tax base must support the designation. If Novato was a basic aid district it wouldn't have a structural deficit and it would have been far more likely to have supported a charter as simply another choice. Our problems have to do with perception of scarcity, the districts focus on keeping all elementary schools the same and resistance to an option because people have been misinformed about what it means. For example, your comment about public subsidies for private schools is yet another example of misinformation. Charters are open to all students. They are public schools.
Eleanor Sluis January 21, 2013 at 07:37 PM
Is it time to consider splitting the one Novato school district into two, an elementary and a high school district? Other cities in Marin receive $ 10-12,000 for each high school student, while Novato receives about $8500. The high schools in Novato need more programs to help those who need more training in the basic skills, science and math along with the arts, music, and sports to graduate a well-rounded critical thinker, who will be better able to reach his or her potential as citizens in our world today. Could this be better accomplished with two separate districts?
Eleanor Sluis January 21, 2013 at 07:42 PM
Is it time to consider splitting the one Novato school district into two, an elementary and a high school district? Other cities in Marin receive $ 10-12,000 for each high school student, while Novato receives about $8500. The high schools in Novato need more programs to help those who need more training in the basic skills, science and math along with the arts, music, and sports to graduate a well-rounded critical thinker, who will be better able to reach his or her potential as citizens in our world today. Could this be better accomplished with two separate districts?
Tina McMillan January 21, 2013 at 08:19 PM
Eleanor: You need revenue to increase ADA. Splitting the district means you duplicate roles and services. Can you explain how the money would increase with two districts?
A Novato Parent January 21, 2013 at 10:00 PM
Your math using the averages makes no sense. English language learners do not make up half of the school student population so you would have to do a weighted average which works out closer to 12,000 for the english speakers....still not equal but not as disparate....
JC Peters January 24, 2013 at 04:39 PM
Narcissistic personality disorder-Narcissistic personality disorder is a condition in which people have an inflated sense of self-importance and an extreme preoccupation with themselves A person with narcissistic personality disorder may: •React to criticism with rage, shame, or humiliation •Take advantage of other people to achieve his or her own goals •Have excessive feelings of self-importance •Exaggerate achievements and talents •Be preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence, or ideal love •Have unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment •Need constant attention and admiration •Disregard the feelings of others, and have little ability to feel empathy •Have obsessive self-interest •Pursue mainly selfish goals

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