Put Equity Before Equality in School Funding

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Equality does not mean equity. It’s a distinction administrators with the Kern High School District (KHSD) need to understand.

In 2011, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the Local Control Funding Formula, revamping how the state funds K-12 public schools with an eye toward providing more money to schools that serve larger numbers of high need students, including low-income students, English learners and foster youth.

LCFF is about equity.

Sadly, KHSD has chosen instead to distribute most of its state dollars equally across all of the schools in the district. It has done so without regard to differences in student population and the need for more resources to serve higher need students.

And if the data is to be believed those differences are dramatic.

According to the Kern Education Justice Collaborative, a consortium of community organizations working to improve education for underserved students and their families in Kern County, there are a number of schools in the district where overwhelming majorities of students are high need. These include Mira Monte High and South High (90.6 percent), Arvin High (87.6 percent), and East High (83.5 percent).

Then there are other schools where the need for support exists, just not in as great numbers. Some 32 percent of students at Stockdale High are considered high need, while 24 percent of students at Centennial fall under this category. (Both schools have been recognized for their high academic achievement by U.S. News Best High School rankings, which tracks school performance nationally.)

Despite the disproportionately larger number of high-need students in the first group, KHSD has chosen to allocate funding equally among all its campuses. This means that Stockdale High School will be allocated the same amount of money as Arvin High School. Centennial will receive the same amount as Mira Monte High School.

This is an injustice.

Equality is about giving everyone the same thing … this would make sense if everyone started from the same place. But that simply isn’t the case.

There is plenty of research showing the disproportionate and growing educational challenges that low-income students, English learners and foster youth face even before they enter school. Once they do begin school, the disparities in resources and rigor only set them even farther back from they more affluent peers.

While a student from Stockdale High School may have the latest iPhone with an unlimited data plan and the latest MacBook pro to do a research paper, for example, a student from East High typically only has Internet access at the school’s aging computer lab. And while Foothill High School offers only 2 AP courses, Stockdale High School, on the other side of the freeway offers 21. This doesn’t take into account the many clubs and booster programs at wealthier schools that fundraise for enrichment activities like field trips, additional instruction, coaches, supplies and equipment for sports teams, clubs, etc.

Unfortunately, it seems KHSD administrators don’t understand the inequitable distribution of resources within the district. Maybe it’s because their students don’t attend these schools, and so they are not affected by the decision.

Whatever the reason, by not holding true to the intent of LCFF decision makers for KHSD are perpetuating the message that a student’s academic success depends upon how much money their family makes. They are limiting the opportunity of thousands of high need students to succeed and thrive in this ever competitive climate.

A student from North, East, and Arvin high schools should have the same opportunities as a student from Centennial, Stockdale, and Liberty. KHSD needs to ensure that students are encouraged and able to participate in AP classes and curriculum. It needs to allocate funding that targets helping students with the highest need, and it needs to focus on increasing opportunities for students whose educational resources are already very limited.

In order to enjoy true equality we need to establish equity in our funding first.

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