Finding Answers to Questions about School Finance: This New Web Site Is Designed to Help You Understand and Explain the Complexities of School Funding in California

Leadership, May-June 2007 | Go to article overview

Finding Answers to Questions about School Finance: This New Web Site Is Designed to Help You Understand and Explain the Complexities of School Funding in California


Trying to explain how the different parts of the school finance system work together? Need definitions for obscure school finance terms? Looking for a historical perspective of the laws that created the system we have today?

The sheer size and complexity of school finance in California can be daunting even to those who work in the public school system. Explaining the intricacies of this system to the public in a way that makes sense and promotes informed dialog can be even more challenging. The new California School Finance Web site can help you do just that.

The Web site, www.californiaschoolfinance.org, was developed by EdSource, an organization that has been trusted in California for 30 years to explain school finance in simple, jargon-free language. The CASF site maintains that tradition and is a valuable tool school administrators can use to explain school finance to their boards, staff and other constituents.

"School finance is a hot topic in California right now, and school administrators have to both understand it and explain it," said Mary Perry, EdSource deputy director. "We've tried to create a resource that gives a complete picture of school finance in California. We wanted to make this site accessible so people new to the topic could understand it, but also comprehensive enough to explain the complexities and the real debates surrounding public school funding."

The CASF Web site examines school finance from multiple perspectives, ranging from an introduction to the system to exploring and discussing the latest school finance research. Additional resources, such as a searchable school finance glossary, help make the information even more accessible.

Beginning with the basics of the state's K-12 education system, the Web site answers the essential questions about how the finance system works and who controls what. It explains the various sources of revenue that feed the system, how that money is distributed and how it is ultimately spent.

A special feature of the site draws on EdSource's three decades of work in explaining school finance, providing a unique glimpse into the history and the laws and court cases underlying the current system. From the "History" page, users can also download reports from the EdSource archives that explained key school finance events and decisions at the time they occurred.

The CASF site also offers a detailed look at the district budgeting process, starting with an explanation of the challenges school districts face in remaining fiscally solvent while meeting the needs and expectations of students, staff, community and the government.

Short, easy to read and reproduce pages also explain different factors districts must weigh when writing their budgets, how the districts report financial information, the collective bargaining process and its impact on the budget, the state's fiscal oversight process and the budget cycle calendar.

For those who are interested, more detail is easily available, including how to read a school district budget and how districts use SACS, the state's standardized account code structure, to improve data.

Ray Reinhard, former assistant superintendent for business services, San Lorenzo Valley USD, said the California School Finance Web site could make communicating with the public easier for district administrators.

"When I was a CBO, members of our advisory committees were often frustrated at not being able to understand the budgeting process and the terminology, and a resource like this would have been very useful for them," Reinhard said. …

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