California's School Finance System Is Broken, But No One Will Fix It

Schools are the most important government function in California. They determine the state's future as a society and as an economy. They consume far more resources than any other government service.

And the financing of schools is an incomprehensible mess that needs immediate reform -- and is not getting it.

That is the very tough conclusion of a new report on school finance from the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office.

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The report surveyed school districts around the state and found that many are using stimulus funds, borrowing and various accounting manuevers to pay the bills.

But the report comes to a thundering conclusion in describing the state's famously-difficult-to-understand system of school finance as in need of reform. The LAO takes a shot at Gov. Brown for failing to address the problem immediately:

"The state’s K–12 finance system is riddled with problems—characterized by various research groups as overly complex, irrational, inequitable, inefficient, and highly centralized. Though the state’s current categorical flexibility provisions have temporarily decentralized some decision making, they have done little to make the K–12 finance system more rational, equitable, and efficient. Rather than address these fundamental problems, the Governor proposes to extend most flexibility provisions by two years. While such action would help school districts in building and balancing their budgets over the next few years, it postpones important decisions that the state ultimately must confront."

The LAO's solution is straightforward: consolidate all existing funding sources for schools into a few block grants for districts. This would be far simpler and easier to understand, and would allow districts to have more certainty about the money they receive. 

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