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How funding factors in to what makes a good school

Gov. Jerry Brown signs funding legislation to assist disadvantaged students and restore local control on spending in schools, during a ceremony at Cahuenga Elementary School on July 1, 2013.
Gov. Jerry Brown signs funding legislation to assist disadvantaged students and restore local control on spending in schools, during a ceremony at Cahuenga Elementary School on July 1, 2013.

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What makes a good school? Some say great teachers, involved parents, and then of course there is funding.

Some schools have more money than others but does that make them better? And what determines how much money a school gets and how the funds are spent?

Patrick Murphy, Director of Research at the Public Policy Institute of California, joined Take Two to talk about how K-12 school funding works in California.

Interview highlights

On whether more money equals a better school or education

It's a great question. There isn't a definitive way to say that for each dollar of spending, your student gets a dollar of improved achievement, however you want to measure that... What we do know is that for some students, they need additional services, and those services cost something. So if you have a student who has a reading delay and they need a reading specialist to help overcome that, you're going to have to pay for that reading specialist. Now, if I'm at a private school that ability to provide that might be easier simply because I've got a larger budget or more flexibility in my budget than it could be at a public school that is more constrained in what it can spend its dollars on.

On the differences between public and private schools

For a private school, as their costs increase, they can choose to try to rein those in, that's one option, they can also just simply change their revenue. Raise tuition, place greater expectations on parents to contribute, and hope it sort of comes from those who can give the most, do fundraising, look for other ways to do it. The public school doesn't have as much control, in fact has almost no control over the revenue side of the equation. And so when they're facing a recession, as we've come out of, they were faced with really one option which is you reduce your costs. And any school, this is public or private, is about... 85 percent salaries and expenses that are associated with people. And so if you're going to cut funding, you're going to cut people.

On the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), the funding model for K-12 education that the state Legislature passed in 2013

It acknowledged that equal wasn't necessarily the goal. That equal doesn't cut it. There are kids who need more resources and if we shoot for equal, we actually aren't able to direct the additional resources to the kids that need it most. And so LCFF built into it a formula that said, 'we're going to give everyone a base amount. And then to that we will add additional supplements.' And they way in which they identified who would get a supplement would be based on the number of students you have who are either poor (as measured by free and reduced lunch enrollment) or an English Language Learner on the assumption that either category is a category that could use more resources if we're going to have them be successful.

On how private fundraising and other donations factor in

The number of school foundations, these organizations (like a PTA or PTO) that provide additional funds, has grown dramatically over the last few years, and the amount of money that they have contributed has grown dramatically. But to give you a sense of scale, we're talking about a half a billion dollars in what's a 40-50 billion dollar expenditure by the state. So it's not insignificant, but when you start to work it out on a per student basis, we are not talking the kind of money that we think of that is the difference maker, for the most part. I have to add though, not surprisingly, wealthy schools raise more money.

To hear the full interview click the blue player above.

Series: Good Schools

As part of its Good Schools series, Take Two looks at the education landscape in the Los Angeles area. That includes its public schools, magnets, charters, private institutions and dual-language programs. You’ll hear from parents, academics, teachers, kids and even a couple of TV show producers.

Read more in this series and let us know your thoughts on Facebook, or tweet us @Take Two and @KPCC with the hashtag #goodschools.