Tenth grade Manhood Development class students at Oakland High absorb a discussion about college admissions.

Tenth grade Manhood Development class students at Oakland High absorb a discussion about college admissions.

Disadvantaged students make up the fastest growing segment of American children today — and a robust workforce and a skilled economy will depend on their academic success. California is doing things differently — a bold experiment to bring America’s largest public school system back from the brink. Is it working?


  • Cory Turner Senior Editor with NPR's Education Team
  • Susan Ferriss Reporter for The Center for Public Integrity
  • Linda Darling-Hammond President of the Learning Policy Institute and Professor of Education Emeritus at Stanford University
  • Paul Peterson Professor of Government and Director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University; he's also Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution

Get Up, Stand Up: California’s Search For Education Equity

For decades, complaints that underfunded schools are failing disadvantaged kids have been sparking lawsuits nationwide. In California, legislators took a bold leap in 2013 to address such complaints, and enacted a new system for distributing education dollars.

The system has a dull label, the Local Control Funding Formula, but it represents nothing less than a revolution in how schools are funded. On top of basic per-pupil money, the new formula provides extra dollars for poor districts based on how many disadvantaged students they have, and encourages local decision-making and experimentation on how to reach and teach kids.

The Center for Public Integrity is covering the new system’s successes and failures. Their piece and accompanying video chart human stories inside schools in Oakland and Los Angeles, with a ground-up look at outside-the-box experiments that are encouraged as part of the new funding regime.

If you want to compare per-student spending changes over time in California, you can check every district in the state using the database below, which the Center for Public Integrity prepared.

The database reveals that the most affluent districts in California benefit from local tax revenue generous enough to cover relatively high per-pupil spending levels. These districts can also receive limited state and federal aid. For poorer districts dependent on the state, the new formula won’t close all spending gaps, but per-student spending in some poorer districts has risen dramatically in just the first two years of the new formula. You can compare spending and other data for any of about 1,000 districts in California using the interactive below. High per-pupil spending in isolated and small poor districts often is due to special support from the state needed to function.

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