NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 19, 2006

Hundreds of thousands of California students are trapped in failing schools.  The state has 2,215 schools labeled "needs improvement" by federal standards.  Of those schools, 355 have been chronically failing for at least five straight years, says Lisa Snell of the Reason Foundation.

Several reforms would allow students to leave failing schools and force these schools to quickly improve or close.  According to Snell, school funding should follow each child to the school of their parents' choice, forcing schools to compete for students -- and money.

The best schools will thrive and low-performing schools will get better or find themselves empty.

Snell recommends a school funding plan that follows each child and is based on the weighted-student formula, which gives schools more money for taking students with special needs or limited English proficiency.  Consider:

  • It is not a coincidence that San Francisco, in its sixth year of weighted student formula and school choice, is the highest performing urban district in the state and dramatically better than Los Angeles Unified.
  • With parents choosing the best schools for their kids, San Francisco closed five schools because of low-enrollment in 2005.
  • Buoyed by San Francisco's success, Oakland has shifted to the weighted-student formula as well.

Snell also calls for opportunity scholarships that would allow low-income students in failing schools to attend private or charter schools, increased use of charter schools and streamlining the process parents must navigate in order to get their kids out of failing schools.

In school districts where large numbers of schools are failing, Snell urges the districts to ask private or nonprofit organizations to take over the failing schools.

Source: News Release, "Study: How to Get Our Kids Out of Failing California Schools," Reason Foundation, December 12, 2006; based upon: Lisa Snell, "No Choices Left Behind: Competitive Models to Restructure California's Lowest Performing Schools," Reason Foundation, December 2006.

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