Pots of money

California schools with affluent, high-scoring students get more money per student in some “categorical” spending programs than high-need schools, says a report by PACE (Policy Analysis for California Education). The Sacramento Bee reports:

Categoricals are special pots of money designated for specific purposes, such as Gifted and Talented Education and helping Eng lish learners. The money goes out on top of basic per-student allocations that cover general education expenses.

According to the new study, the categorical system has grown dramatically. In 1980, the state had just 17 special categories of school funding; by 2002 there were 124, totaling nearly $13 billion.

The system was built through years of politicking at the Capitol. Usually, the intentions were noble, such as helping poor children or training teachers. But the system has become mired in so much red tape and unevenness that it is now the most complex and bureaucratic in the nation.

Nobody checks to see if a categorical program is working. Even if it’s obvious the program isn’t effective, it’s politically impossible to end categorical funding once the schools get hooked on the money.

The School Improvement Program, which provides money to be spent at the discretion of local site councils, provides $86 per student at more affluent and high-scoring schools, only $48 per student at schools with low-income, low-scoring students. The Supplemental Grant Program, designed to help suburban schools, provides $77 per affluent student, $15 per student in lower-income areas.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promised to do something about the categorical mess. Don’t hold your breath.

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