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Reason Foundation

Study: How to Get Our Kids Out of Failing California Schools

Think tank calls for school funding to follow students and opportunity scholarships to rescue children stuck in poor performing schools

December 12, 2006

Los Angeles (December 12, 2006) — Hundreds of thousands of California students are trapped in failing schools. The state has 2,215 schools labeled "needs improvement" by federal standards. Of those schools, 355 have been chronically failing for at least five straight years.

A new Reason Foundation report details several reforms that would allow students to leave failing schools and force these schools to quickly improve or close. The Reason report says school funding should follow each child to the school of their parents' choice, forcing schools to compete for students — and money. The best schools will thrive and low-performing schools will get better or find themselves empty.

"We allow thousands of schools to continually fail and the students stuck in these schools deserve better," said Lisa Snell, director of education at Reason Foundation and author of the new study. "Even our very worst public schools know they'll get their money no matter what. These schools have proven that they won't get better unless we force them to. Giving parents choices and taking away the per-pupil funding for each student that leaves a school will send the message loud and clear."

Snell recommends a school funding plan that follows each child and is based on the weighted-student formula, which gives schools more money for taking students with special needs or limited English proficiency.

Reason says it is not a coincidence that San Francisco, in its sixth year of weighted student formula and school choice, is the highest performing urban district in the state and dramatically better than Los Angeles Unified. With parents choosing the best schools for their kids, San Francisco closed five schools because of low-enrollment in 2005. Buoyed by San Francisco's success, Oakland has shifted to the weighted-student formula as well.

The Reason study also calls for opportunity scholarships that would allow low-income students in failing schools to attend private or charter schools; increased use of charter schools; and streamlining the process parents must navigate in order to get their kids out of failing schools.

In school districts where large numbers of schools are failing, Reason urges the districts to ask private or nonprofit organizations to takeover the failing schools. In 2002, Philadelphia handed over 45 of its worst performing schools local universities, nonprofits, and for-profit companies, including Edison Schools. Many of these schools have shown increased test scores and Philadelphia has even been able to significantly boost test scores in schools the city is still running by implementing an innovative benchmarking system first developed by Edison.

Full Report Online

The full study, No Choices Left Behind: Competitive Models to Restructure California's Lowest-Performing Schools, is available online at www.reason.org/ps354.pdf. Reason's education research and commentary is here: http://www.reason.org/education/index.shtml.

About Reason

Reason Foundation is a nonprofit think tank dedicated to advancing free minds and free markets. Reason produces respected public policy research on a variety of issues and publishes the critically acclaimed monthly magazine, Reason. For more information, please visit www.reason.org.

Contacts

Lisa Snell, Director of Education, Reason Foundation, (951) 218-1171
Chris Mitchell, Director of Media Relations, Reason Foundation, (310) 367-6109



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