Taft Union High School in Taft, California. Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/kevinkrejci/">Kevin Krejci</a>/Flickr

During his inaugural address, President Donald Trump attacked the U.S. education system as “flush with cash” and yet failing in its mission. For decades, though, complaints that schools were underfunded and shortchanging disadvantaged kids have sparked 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 unique 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 these kids. A new Center for Public Integrity piece and accompanying video look at initial successes — and controversies — related to the initiative. Should schools be investing money earmarked for disadvantaged students in policing and security? Is raising staff salaries an effective tactic to improve outcomes? In Oakland, schools are using some of their funding to invest in African American and now Latino-focused curricula, as well as “case managers” who support kids and families dealing with outside-the-school issues. In the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, schools are using conflict-resolution methods teachers say not only help kids get along and focus, but improve academic abilities as well.

For Californians interested in data revealing how much their school district spends in comparison to others — both before and after the new formula kicked in — the Center for Public Integrity has prepared a statewide database that allows readers to plug in districts’ names. The data reveal large gaps between rich districts like Palo Alto and poor districts, like the farmworker community of Salinas. But data also show that lower-income districts’ funding is increasing, and reveal some changes in the percent of a district’s graduates who are eligible to apply for state four-year public colleges.

Susan Ferriss

Susan Ferriss is a reporter with wide experience at home and abroad. She has investigated a range of issues, from military toxic waste and real-estate fraud to police corruption and international drug trafficking. She covered California state government and politics for several years, and was a prize-winning foreign correspondent in Latin America, where her reports included stories on child labor, child migration and transnational gangs.