Unified school districts with top-heavy enrollments of high school students, including the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Torrance systems, would receive $13 million in extra state aid under a bill awaiting final action by the Legislature this week.
Proponents of the measure, authored by Assemblyman Gerald N. Felando (R-San Pedro), say educating high school students costs more than those in the elementary grades. If a district has a disproportionate number of high school students, they say, it is unfairly penalized by school finance formulas that are based on a statewide student average for unified systems--now about 30% in secondary grades and 70% in elementary.
The Peninsula district, which has 45% of its 10,100 students enrolled in grades nine through 12, would receive $590,000 in additional state aid under the bill. The Torrance system, where 40% of its 19,000 students are in high schools, would get $886,000--the largest amount for any of the 80 unified districts that would benefit from Felando's bill.
'It's Only Fair'
"We're trying to correct a basic inequity that makes it really hard for some of these districts to stay afloat," Felando said. "Since they clearly have higher operating costs, it's only fair that they should get more money to help offset those costs."
High school students cost more to educate, administrators say, because they require more facilities and more expensive programs, compared to youngsters at the elementary level. Those factors include science labs, vocational training shops and more space and equipment for physical education and varsity sports.
Even the bigger desks needed by high school students cost more.
Elementary school teachers and classrooms can be more efficiently utilized since pupils usually stay in the same room all day, while high school students move around at the end of each period of instruction, the administrators say.
In some districts, El Segundo Supt. Richard Bertain said, the salaries of secondary teachers and administrators may be higher.
Typical factors behind the relatively low percentage of elementary students in some school systems are declining birthrates and high property values that tend to keep younger couples from settling in more affluent communities, said Nancy Mahr, a spokeswoman for the Peninsula district, which is sponsoring the Felando legislation. She said a low high school dropout rate in the Peninsula and similar districts also boosts the percentage of students at that level.
Declining enrollment may compound the problem of rising educational costs in the districts covered by Felando's bill, Mahr said. The Peninsula district's share of state aid, based on average daily attendance (ADA), has fallen year after year in step with a steady drop in overall enrollment, she said. The district has lost 42% of its enrollment over the past 15 years.
El Segundo Unified, with 39% of its 2,000 students in high school, easily passes the Felando bill's first test--a district must have at least 2% more high school students than the state average to qualify--but flunks the next step: The bill excludes unified districts that are already receiving more ADA money than systems that serve high school students only.
Average Is $3,012
El Segundo gets $3,226 in ADA funds annually for each student, compared to the current state average of $3,012 for high school districts, $2,581 for unified systems and $2,427 for elementary.
(A district's ADA allocation, or "base revenue limit," is only one part of the financial package put together to educate a youngster. The package also includes state and federal funding for so-called categorical programs, such as bilingual instruction, special education for handicapped students and school lunches. Districts in congested urban areas get additional money.)
All schools, whether rich or poor, are supposed to receive essentially the same level of financial support to ensure equal educational opportunities for all children, according to the 1976 Serrano-Priest decision. But the change to uniform funding required by the state Supreme Court's ruling has been allowed to occur gradually--to avoid suddenly plunging some districts into relative poverty or wealth--and substantial differences still exist.
A striking example is Emery Unified in the San Francisco area. It receives nearly $4,000 in basic ADA funds for each student, while many other districts, such as Glendale Unified, get by on about $2,500. According to a recent survey, however, about 90% of California's 1,029 school districts are now within $100 of each other in ADA funding.