State schools

How Newsom Would Close the Achievement Gap in State Schools

When Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled his revised state budget last month, he bragged about increasing public school spending to $128.3 billion, or nearly $23,000 per student, in a bid to “completely reinvent the education system.”

What does that mean?

Newsom envisions universal access to early childhood care and education and transforms neighborhood schools into “community schools” that “partner with educational, county, and nonprofit entities to provide integrated health, mental health and social issues alongside high quality supportive teaching, with a strong emphasis on community, family and student engagement.

The budget describes the “California for All Kids” plan as “a whole-child support framework designed to target inequities in educational outcomes among students from different demographic backgrounds and give parents and families more options and more services”.

Its promise of integrated services mirrors another Newsom program to overhaul Medi-Cal, the state’s health care system for the poor that serves a third of the state’s population. The new approach, dubbed “CalAIM,” “would move the whole person care approach that integrates health care and other social determinants of health, to a national level with a clear focus on improving health and reducing health disparities and inequalities, including improving and expanding behavioral health care. ”

Medi-Cal providers would not only be responsible for medical services, but would help clients with other aspects of their lives, such as housing and income support.

Universal pre-kindergarten, community schools, and CalAIM, if fully implemented as envisioned, would move California toward fuller—or perhaps intrusive—involvement in the lives of the estimated 14 million Californians who live into poverty or near-poverty with the aim of improving their lives and perhaps breaking the cycle of poverty. The interventionist approach also extends to another Newsom initiative called “care courts” which would force mentally ill homeless people into treatment.

They are social engineering experiments that conceptually mimic the Western European tradition of cradle-to-grave services.

The education component of the new vision may be the most difficult to implement due to schools’ historical emphasis on classroom instruction and the money to deliver it. Getting children through 12 years of schooling is hard enough, educators might say, without putting them in charge of their families.

However, it is unmistakably clear that California schools are plagued by a stubborn “achievement gap” separating poor, English-learning students from their more privileged peers, one that has surely widened during the Covid-19 pandemic. 19.

Ten years ago, then governor. Jerry Brown persuaded the Legislature to take a different approach by reforming the school funding system to give more money to school systems with large numbers of students at risk of academic failure.

Newsom’s new budget builds on the concept by requiring that local school systems, starting next year, “provide expanded learning opportunities for all low-income students, English language learners and young people in foster care….”

So, one wonders, what would it really take for the 60% of students who fall into these “high-needs” categories to catch up with the 40% who thrive in public schools? Would integrating education with family-oriented health and social services do the trick? Or would it take billions of dollars more and more of the $128.3 billion in the budget?

The Public Policy Institute of California recently published a report on this issue, summarizing the many academic studies on the relationship between money and academic success. Overall, he concluded, more spending has positive impacts on education, but closing California’s achievement gap could cost up to $10,000 more per student each year.

This would increase current spending by almost 50% and cost up to $60 billion a year, probably a politically impossible amount.

Cal Matters is a public interest journalism company committed to explaining how the California State Capitol works and why it matters. For more Dan Walters columns, go to calmmatters.org/commentary.