THE SUSTAINABILITY OF the state’s public education system is questioned in a new report from the Berkeley Institute for Young Americans. Part of the California 100 initiative, administered by the Goldman School of Public Policy, the report finds that long-term structural challenges in the state’s finance system, combined with flaws in education governance, threaten the long-term outlook of public education.
The analysis examines how California manages and funds the early care and education (ECE), K-12, and higher education systems, to assess the strengths and shortcomings of the system. Two main structural issues in the finance system emerge. These include the inadequacy of the formula to determine funding levels in ECE, K-12, or higher education and the instability of the education finance system, which may falter during recessions, fueling dramatic losses.
“California has historically underinvested in all parts of the education system, and we all begrudgingly live with the results — not enough subsidized child care seats, low levels of academic achievement in K-12, and rising tuition across higher education institutions,” said Erin Heys, the principal investigator of the project. “Lawmakers today are trying to make up for past underinvestment by using multi-year state budget surpluses to better fund each sector. The problem is that much of the new funding is one-time rather than ongoing, which means that the new money schools and colleges have now will be at risk in a future downturn. This rollercoaster of funding has gone on for far too long. To secure the longevity and success of public education in California, lawmakers must invest in the adequacy and sustainability of the finance system.”
Looking ahead, the rise of alternative education models must also be grappled with, researchers suggest.
“As California sits at the crossroads of change, this report is intended to be a conversation starter for stakeholders to consider what education might look like in California a century from now,” said Sarah Swanbeck, executive director of the Berkeley Institute for Young Americans and co-author of the report. “Alternative education models are taking root in California today that put into question the longevity of the public system, but there are important tradeoffs that need serious consideration. We encourage readers to consider how student equity, education quality, and the democratic purposes of education are represented in different models and what reforms, if any, may be necessary to steer the system towards a brighter future.”