The following is a column submitted by Mendocino County Superintendent of Schools Michelle Hutchins, published here as a letter-to-the-editor:
The first week in May was Teacher Appreciation Week. Never have teachers deserved more appreciation than they do now. When the pandemic hit, teachers used their experience, creativity, dedication, and compassion to instantly develop distance learning programs that have kept thousands of students moving forward academically.
As we contemplate returning to school in the fall, local school districts must create contingency plans for how to adhere to Public Health safety rules such as social distancing, while still providing fair and equitable instruction for all students. This is no small task. As you can imagine, school campuses were not created with social distancing in mind, and it becomes even more complex when we consider how to coordinate all school services, not just classroom instruction. Schools provide transportation, meals, counseling, special education services, and so much more.
As daunting as this is, I am confident that the resourceful school administrators in Mendocino County will create plans that work for their districts. The issue that concerns me is how to fund these plans, given the projected shortfalls and the traditionally rigid funding mechanisms for education.
RECESSION ON THE WAY
On May 7, the California Department of Finance projected the state’s coronavirus-induced recession would reduce school funding from Proposition 98 monies by as much as $18.3 billion over a three-year period. Before the coronavirus hit, schools were already underfunded. Now they’re being asked to do more with even less.
Thankfully, school funding is more flexible than it once was. In 2013-14, the state of California enacted a new school funding formula known as the Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF. LCFF replaced an arcane, 40-year-old funding system riddled with state-controlled mandates and calculations that produced uneven and inequitable funding across the state. LCFF helped return educational decisions to the local community, provided equalized per-pupil funding, and offered additional resources. Districts must use this funding to provide targeted services that support English language learners, low-income students, and foster youth while aligning with eight state educational priorities.
Without getting into too many details, this funding still comes with strings, but we have more control than we used to. Other funding, both state and federal, is even less flexible because it is only to be used to serve specific populations or narrowly defined initiatives.
SCHOOLS SHOULDN’T SUFFER
Right now, students would be better served if districts were paid based on student enrollment rather than attendance, and if they could re-route some of their restricted funding to support the programming and infrastructure required for distance learning. Today, school districts are required to maintain the staffing, educational materials, classroom space, and food for all students enrolled in their district, but they are only paid when those students show up. It doesn’t make any sense.
We are in unprecedented times and need to make sure all students receive the education they deserve. To make this happen, I encourage every single community member to visit https://bit.ly/3dqhgIT. This link will route you to a website that makes it easy to send a message to Governor Gavin Newsom and legislators about the 2020-21 school budget.
You’ll be asked to share your name, address, phone, email, and school district or county office of education that represents you. The pre-written message focuses on providing adequate school funding for the 2020-21 school year. You can add your own thoughts and share specifics about your experiences during this shelter in place if you feel moved to do so.
EDUCATION HELPS ALL OF US
Our students deserve an education that prepares them for the future, that eventually allows them to support themselves financially and contribute to the betterment of society. Without flexible, enrollment-based funding, schools cannot adequately provide this education. Please join me in communicating this message.