Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hot topic: What would it take to get the funding for S.F. schools up to at least the national average?

An SF K Files reader asked me to start the following thread:
So many posts on The SF K Files end up being about the bottom line...money. Depressing old news about prop 13 and our screwed up political system. I would like to see a hot topic post asking for the financial and political wizards reading the blog to write in and tell us, What would it take to get the funding for San Francisco schools up to at least the national average? Get creative--how much per resident per year, various tax schemes, fees, rich donors, who knows. I would really love to see the responses. What if it turns out each San francisco Resident could pay .5% of income and save our schools from the financial crisis they are in. We are a creative city...PTA dollars can only go so far.

39 comments:

  1. According to the US Dept of Education http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/2009/section4/indicator34.asp, the average spending per student nationally is $9,237, excluding capital spending and debt servicing (including capital outlay and debt servicing raises the number to ~$11,300).

    According to Greatschools.net, the average for SFUSD is around $8,500, and the state average is ~$10,800. Don't know if those figures from greatschools.net include capital outlay though. [I'd expect SFUSD to have less capital outlay than most school districts, because it's not having to build new schools, but maintain what it already has.]

    The school population of SFUSD is around 54,000, again according to greatschools.net. So to bring the spending per pupil up to the national average would take and additional ~$750/student, or about $40 million. Divide that by 800,000 residents of SF, and you've got an additional $50/person additional tax burden.

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  2. My crazy fantasy is that Jennifer Siebel and her socialite friends "adopt" SF public schools as their pet cause and raise tons of money. Isn't that a worthier cause than our first lady's latest greatest attempts at documentary film-making?

    Didn't CAroline Kennedy do something similar for NYC, getting the wealthy elite to raise money for public schools?

    BTW, NYC now spends more than $14,000 per pupil, I believe.

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  3. 5:08

    What a fantastic idea! If Vanessa Getty can work for pets, why can't Jennifer Siebel Newsom for schools...even if Montana ends up in Catholic school herself...

    And the Kennedy kids went to private even when Mama was raising money for the public system, so why not here.

    Who knows Jennifer?

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  4. SFUSD Superintendent Carlos Garcia mentioned a few years ago that corporate funding would be unlikely to yield the kind of large and predictable revenue stream that is needed to pay teachers and develop their skills.

    State parks also have the same problem. You can't pay rangers and develop outdoor education programs for children when you don't have a predictable revenue stream.

    So often when I have discussed school funding with people, I encounter a "make the rich pay" argument. But it has always been the middle class, because of their large number and ability to pay, that have paid for education and other programs through their steady stream of taxes.

    I realize that the first post suggests that we could improve funding to the schools with just $50 per person, which isn't very much money.

    But the middle class tax payer seems to be more stingy than they have ever been. For instance, a recent poll to find out if California tax payers would be willing to pay a $15 increase in the vehicle license fee, in order to save state parks, gets a "yes" from only 50% of tax payers.

    So people are not in a paying mood these days.

    For SF schools, the dysfunctional lottery does not help the middle class feel invested in education.

    Prop 19 has meant that the tax burden is not evenly born by SF tax payers. Increasingly, aging empty nesters pay very low tax compared to the assessed value of their home. Young families pay a much larger property tax. The tax burden is increasingly falling disproportionately on people in their thirties, just at the time they start to raise a family.

    In SF, there is an opt out box for retired tax payers that also means that the tax burden is not born evenly or fairly.

    And, of course, their is the illegal immigrant issue, which is estimated, even by the most cautious standards, to cost the California tax payer about $5 billion per year.

    I am not trying to cause a huge flame war. We do need to fix funding to the schools in our city and our state. But the recent state props failed by a wide majority for a reason. People may not talk about it, but they are not stupid.

    We need to be honest with ourselves. There is no angel from on high or philanthropist mayor's wife that is going to rescue us.

    The paying middle class needs to perceive that the tax system is fair and that they do get some benefit from it in order for them to want to pay more into it.

    The SFUSD and the city can start to solve some of these problems, although they can't fix prop 19.

    But they could discourage employers from employing illegal immigrants.

    They could work to improve the lottery so that it is perceived to be fairer and less time consuming.

    They could observe schools that have improved test scores and reduced the achievement gap so that this knowledge is passed to other schools.

    We could directly canvass disadvantaged groups in their neighborhoods to tell them about the school assignment lottery. (Instead of blaming Asians and Caucasians for the fact that these groups don't participate.)

    We could increase the length of the school year. There is that little problem of having to pay teachers more, but I believe the benefits would be great enough to make that particular change something that we all might sign up for pretty quickly.

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  5. 6:51

    I think you meant Prop 13, although I take your point about the generational unfairness of it.

    I believe the recent ballot measures were attacked from the right and the left. The left didn't like them because they would have set in stone some very draconian budget measures. The right didn't like them because they mentioned the T word.

    I don't know that you and I are on the same page on a number of issues, but I think we might agree that we need to build a stronger sense that we are all in this boat together and we sink or swim together. Which means, ultimately, having trust in the basic fairness of the system.

    I also think, however, in an extremely diverse state like California (and increasingly the nation) that it will also mean stretching ourselves across lines of class and culture and language. Europe cultivates a stronger sense of social solidarity in part because of their (increasingly false) sense of common culture. Can the American experiment, based in its best form on democratic ideals, succeed? Will we send our children to schools where the kids look and sound different? Will we pay for their schooling as well as for our own child's and those who look like him/her, because we believe those kids are in the boat with us too?

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  6. It's proposition 13, and especially when we're talking about children, it is very ugly to call some "illegal". A neutral term - "undocumented", perhaps? - is more fair and less flameworthy.

    Personally, I am tired of catering to the "perceptions" held by (some segment) of the (white) middle class residents of San Francisco, who rail against the costs undocumented workers (may) place on public systems while also expecting low taxes, pothole-free roads,0f excellent schools, fast city services and so on.

    The best way to fund California schools is to deal with Proposition 13, and doing so is increasingly discussed. It's no longer the third rail. We also need to talk about systemic inequities within and between districts - part of the reason the NYC schools so badly needed money was that they were receiving less than half as much as surrounding wealthy districts per pupil in funding.

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  7. Really? You are blaming undocumented workers?

    How many small businesses would close down if they couldn't employ the undocumented? Are you willing to go without your nanny? Gardener? Dishwasher? Fruits and vegetables?

    Besides: It is a MYTH that undocumented workers don't pay taxes. In fact, they pay in a lot more than they take out, starting with social security (when they have a fake #, money gets taken out even though they will never see benefits) and sales taxes.

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  8. "Really? You are blaming undocumented workers?"

    That is not the only problem. I have made that clear.

    "How many small businesses would close down if they couldn't employ the undocumented?"

    The unemployment rate is such that there are many people here that would love to have the jobs that undocumented workers now have.

    How many large businesses have already closed because this state is not fiscally solvent?

    "Are you willing to go without your nanny?"

    I stayed home with my daughter for a year when she was a baby, then daycare, then preschool. We made an effort to hire people who were here legally. It wasn't very difficult.

    We do have a babysitter who helps us now and then. She originally came into this country illegally, but at a time when we were far more able to provide the financial services to assist her to gain a foothold in this country. She has been a citizen for over 25 years. We pay her $20 an hour. We have the greatest respect for her.

    "Gardener? Dishwasher?"

    Are you out of your mind?

    "Fruits and vegetables?"

    There are enough legal immigrants now in the country, either through amnesty or marriage, to do this work. There is currently 40 percent unemployment in the central valley. Do we really need to encourage more people to abandon their homes, risk their lives and come here, only to be unemployed?

    And I really wouldn't mind paying more for fruits and vegetables, if it meant that we could finally make farm workers into legal workers. Much of the profit extracted from illegal farm workers is taken by corporations and does not result in lower food prices.

    "Besides: It is a MYTH that undocumented workers don't pay taxes. In fact, they pay in a lot more than they take out, starting with social security (when they have a fake #, money gets taken out even though they will never see benefits) and sales taxes."

    There have been a number of articles in the LA Times recently that have tried to have a look the numbers. They don't add up:

    http://articles.latimes.com/
    2009/feb/02/local/me-cap2

    The conclusion of this article states: "Illegal immigrants are not the sole cause of the state's deficit. But they are a drain."

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  9. I'm no fan of Prop 13 and would swiftly vote for its repeal. But in Nov 2000, California voters passed Prop 39 which lowered the super-majority threshold to pass school bonds from 2/3 to 55%. Parcel tax increases still require a 2/3 majority of voters.

    It should be noted that both of these methods of raising taxes are built on the inequitable foundations of Prop 13. Still we should give ourselves some props (sorry) for passing the increases that we have:

    * School bonds: June 1994, Nov 2003 and Nov 2006.

    * Parcel tax increases: June 2006 and Nov 2008

    I don't believe that any such measures have failed.

    Two other points:

    With the state raiding local tax revenues, much of this discussion is moot. Another way of saying this is, if we tripled our property tax rates, wouldn't Arnold just say thank you? My guess is that SF sends more to Sac then it gets back.

    And finally, how did we fall so far behind?

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  10. The "better" suburban school districts all have a non-profit or foundation that raises money for schools across the district. I'm sure the individual school PTAs raise money, as well, but having a foundation for the whole district means that schools won't live or die based on how organized the parents are at a particular school. It would be nice if San Francisco had a similar fund-raising group that distributed funds to all of the schools.

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  11. I read all this and I'm thinking kudos to our teachers, kids, and parent communities that are producing the highest scores in the state for an urban district, and which compare favorably with many suburban districts, all but the most wealthy really, whose kids could have classes in janitor's closet for a year probably and still get 950 API. I mean, we're not doing so badly. So how would we do if we had all the resources of a Massachusetts district or New York, or Mill Valley?

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  12. "I also think, however, in an extremely diverse state like California (and increasingly the nation) that it will also mean stretching ourselves across lines of class and culture and language."

    Some people have done this, perhaps more than you think.
    I've followed the discussions about Rosa Parks and Cobb. I do think that disadvantaged African American children would particularly benefit from very small class sizes. I am not sure that a diverse classroom would necessarily help these kids.

    "Europe cultivates a stronger sense of social solidarity in part because of their (increasingly false) sense of common culture."

    I don't think that Europeans sense of social solidarity is any stronger than anybody else's.

    Is is stronger than my thesis supervisor who was part Obijwe? No.

    Is it stronger than our super warm Latina babysitter.
    uh-uh.

    Is it stronger than the Akan, Ashanti and Fanti people, who live in Ghana? (where I lived as a child.)
    No way.

    Is it stronger than my daughter's Japanese-American violin teacher.
    No.

    Is it stronger than my husband's Chinese business partner. Probably not.

    etc.

    We all long to understand our own cultural identity and we also brush across, touch and delve into the cultures of other people.

    "Can the American experiment, based in its best form on democratic ideals, succeed? Will we send our children to schools where the kids look and sound different?"

    Sometimes, if we sense that our cultural values are similar enough to another's. We all like to go out of our comfort zone, just not too far and not too quickly. Nobody wants to be the lone voice or the annoying parent asking for something that none of the other parents are interested in.

    "Will we pay for their schooling as well as for our own child's and those who look like him/her, because we believe those kids are in the boat with us too?"

    Within a certain capacity, yes. No thinking, feeling human being can look into the beautiful face of any child and not want that child to succeed.

    It is very hard to see the disparity and the lost potential. Still, we cannot tell someone else how to raise their child. We also cannot fix the whole world.

    We have to think hard about what we can do and then take small steps forward to get there.

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  13. "I read all this and I'm thinking kudos to our teachers, kids, and parent communities that are producing the highest scores in the state for an urban district, and which compare favorably with many suburban districts, all but the most wealthy really, whose kids could have classes in janitor's closet for a year probably and still get 950 API. I mean, we're not doing so badly. "

    My thoughts also. There's a lot of slagging off of SFUSD, especially by the drooling morons on the SFGate forums, but when you look closer, the performance is pretty frickin' good given the hand they're dealt.

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  14. Nobody here is discrediting the valiant job that many SF teachers do. We are not turning away from the many issues that teachers here confront. However, it could be better.

    But thanks to all the teachers doing a great job with less than adequate funding.

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  15. hey, where are all the creative ideas for solving the budget problems in san francisco (and the state).

    was hoping this post would generate some new ideas and hope.

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  16. There are new ideas here and hope, just not easy ones.

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  17. 1. No more taxes. We all pay too much in taxes.

    2. Abandon the lottery and use that $2 million for the students. The "lottery" system diverts educational funds from schools that need it to parents that can work the system. Someone should do a study on how many Mercedes/Lexus/Acura parents drop their kids off at Clarendon and Miraloma while while the rest of us pay to educate their children.

    3. Neighborhood schools. This is a given. Too many people leave the City before their children turn 5 because the current system creates too much uncertainty. Our kids' education is too important to be determined by a "lottery."

    4. Allow landlords to pass on education-related tax increases to their tenants. The problem in SF is that too many residents are renters, and landlords can't pass tax increases on to them.

    5. Disband teachers' unions. There are some great teachers in the system, but also some that are only there b/c of the unions. Teachers should be paid (much more) and judged on the standards that the rest of us are.

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  18. So, you want to get rid of taxes (revenue stream) in return for a measly 2 million dollars (leaving aside the lottery issues for a moment), and then you suggest paying teachers "much more".....uh, where is that money coming from again?

    Not that the teachers would ever get, or keep, huge pay raises without holding onto their right to collective bargaining.

    Just not based in reality.

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  19. So are "Mercedes/Lexus/Acura parents" not allowed to send their kids to Clarendon and Miraloma? Or to public schools? Or what?

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  20. "Neighborhood schools. This is a given. Too many people leave the City before their children turn 5 because the current system creates too much uncertainty.'

    Err, not true. People were defecting out of the system before the lottery was instigated, because, funnily enough, before the lottery, most schools weren't considered acceptable.

    Now, after 8-odd years of the lottery, 20-odd of the schols are considered stellar, another 35 solid, and only 15 as really failing.

    And now the district is ranked equal to Mountain View, Alameda and San Mateo. And spending about 80% per student of the state average, contrary to your "we're taxed too much" assertion.

    We're impatient, and all want a good school for our kids, and want the number of failing schools to be 0%.

    But there has been a real revolution in SF public schools, or at least our attitude to them, in the past 8 years.

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  21. ^ I strongly agree with the above poster. A majority of the schools have improved tremendously since our oldest was born in 2003. Although I'm not keen on driving my kids all over the city for school, I'm willing to do it for a school I believe in.

    I credit the citywide lottery for bringing more parents with resources to our area (SE) in search of immersion programs, etc. that are open to all families. These language programs really improve the entire school. Now, if we could just get more science magnet schools....

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  22. "No more taxes". Really.

    Here's an idea: at 21 you get to choose. either 50% taxation with free government healthcare, childcare, education and public services or 1% taxation with complete pay as you go. No firefighters, public school, medicare, public defenders, roads... etc. You pay directly your share of what you utilize. All you get is the military protecting the country.

    So tired of republican arguments that any taxes are somehow wrong.

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  23. "^ I strongly agree with the above poster. A majority of the schools have improved tremendously since our oldest was born in 2003. Although I'm not keen on driving my kids all over the city for school, I'm willing to do it for a school I believe in."

    In 2004, when my kid ws 1 year old, I remember driving past Leonard Flynn in 2004 thinking "there's no frickin' way I'm sending my kid there".

    In 2008, I was driving past thinking "I hope that my kid fricking gets in there".

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  24. I find this hilarious:
    ------
    2. Someone should do a study on how many Mercedes/Lexus/Acura parents drop their kids off at Clarendon and Miraloma while while the rest of us pay to educate their children.
    -------

    When I started my first child at Miraloma eight years ago, people acted like we were committing child abuse. I don't drive a fancy car, yet have given thousands of hours, and no small amount of my own money to this school to help kids other than my own.

    Same thing has happened with other families all over town - I could name dozens of parents that have done the same thing to help improve our SF public schools and made a difference - so much so that now, unlike 8 years ago - people are clamoring for neighborhood schools when virtually no one could imagine it back then.

    Maybe the poster should go put their time and effort into the public schools to make them better for all kids - and those that may follow your own.

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  25. But back to the original question...

    I think we definitely lack resources in SFUSD, but also believe that public schools in general could use their resources more wisely. AFter 8 years in the public schools (I'm the poster above) I firmly believe that pushing the dollars to be managed locally is the key. Not only is there too much $$ being filtered through the state, but not enough funding is getting to school sites. I've found school sites to be performing miracles with practically nothing. I'm not at all convinced that the money going to the central office is being well spent or is accountable to the public.

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  26. Given that families with school-aged children contine to flee the City, I'm not where the data is to demonstrate that "people are clamoring" for SFUSD schools. And thank you 12:06pm for trying to get this thread back on topic!

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  27. What is *really* depressing about our spending being below the nat'l average is that our cost of living is so much higher than the average.

    We'd have to spend a lot more than the average to *get* the average.

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  28. 12:56: Objectively, applications are up for kindergarten, and enrollment is climbing. Also, many more schools now received applications than there are spaces for them.

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  29. "Given that families with school-aged children contine to flee the City, I'm not where the data is to demonstrate that "people are clamoring" for SFUSD schools"

    How's a double digit rise in applications two years in a row?

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  30. 12:06 here and responding to this:
    --------
    Given that families with school-aged children contine to flee the City, I'm not where the data is to demonstrate that "people are clamoring" for SFUSD schools.
    -------

    Back in 2005 the City survey showed that among parents with kids under the age of 5, 46% said they were likely to leave in the next 3 years.

    This changed dramatically in 2007 when the study showed that this number dropped to 36%. That year was the first year that we saw an increase in the kindergarten applications to SFUSD (this was prior to the economic downturn) - a trend that continued for the past 3 years with the last year showing a quite large increase in applications (probably due to the mini-baby boom in SF, the economy and the growing trend in positive image thanks to PPS, the San Francisco Magazine article, positive stories in the Chronicle, etc.)

    We've seen attitudes change - thanks to efforts of Parents for Public Schools and the hundreds of parents that are stepping up to talk to their fellow parents that there is quality in the public schools.

    The Washington Post just ran a story on a survey on how Americans rate public education. Not surprisingly:

    "Americans clearly like the schools about which they have information but don’t like schools they don’t really know."

    As more parents have gotten information, they seem to be liking the public schools in SF more. And, also during this time, there has been a significant improvement in academic performance in SFUSD schools.

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  31. "In 2004, when my kid ws 1 year old, I remember driving past Leonard Flynn in 2004 thinking "there's no frickin' way I'm sending my kid there".

    In 2008, I was driving past thinking 'I hope that my kid fricking gets in there.'"

    And what's really ironic is that it's pretty much the same school now that it was five years ago.

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  32. "And what's really ironic is that it's pretty much the same school now that it was five years ago."

    Well, they did add the Spanish immersion program, but otherwise, yes.

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  33. I think without the Spanish Immersion track, Flynn would not even be on the radar of many parents.

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  34. However, Flynn is working on getting accredited with the International Baccalaureate program, which would apply to both strands. There are few schools in the Bay Area that have this accreditation....it will be attractive to many parents when they land it.

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  35. I came away from the Board of Education meeting last night in shock. Asst. Superintendent Myong Leigh reported that the current per pupil spending in SFUSD is something like $5,000, which is 46%less than the national average cited above. I echo the previous post that we need to recognize how much teachers, staff, parents, communities are doing to make up this huge difference.

    We need to reform Prop 13. There's no doubt about it. Public education is chronically underfunded. Our City Assessor/Recorder Phil Ting who handles property tax assessments has launched an effort to not do away with Prop 13, but to modify it to equalize the burden between residential and commercial properties. Go to www.closetheloophole.com. There you will find an OpEd from the LA Times by Michael Hiltzik. In it, he cites one analysis that calculates Disneyland's tax burden as roughly a nickel per square feet whereas a single-family home of 1,600 sq ft valued at $330,000 (not in SF of course) is taxed at $2 per square feet.

    According to Phil, who knows these numbers as part of his job: "30 years ago in San Francisco, commercial property owners contributed 59 percent of property tax revenues and residential property owners contributed 41 percent. Today, we see a virtual flip: commercial property owners contributed just 43 percent of property taxes in 2008 while residential property owners contributed 57 percent." Plus 23 other states have a "split roll" property tax that treats commercial property differently from residential property.

    Unfortunately, there hasn't been much momentum behind reform. Until now. I think we've hit rock bottom with the underfunding of state government and we need to do something about it. Bake sales, school auctions, parent donations just can't cover a $113 million deficit.

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