School Beat: Disturbing Changes to the Local Control Funding Formula

by lisa Schiff on November 14, 2013

California’s public education advocates started this school year excited by the promise of our state’s new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which has as its primary goals to streamline the flow of funding from the state to school districts while at the same time increasing public school funding based on the educational needs of actual students. This relatively radical revisioning of school finance signaled a long awaited step in the right direction to transforming our school’s financial and bureaucratic infrastructure. LCFF uncompromisingly acknowledged that students coming to school with higher needs require additional supports at additional costs. It represented a bold step towards clearing away the byzantine maze of dedicated funding sources and related required reporting. Finally, LCFF made it plain that funding for all students, regardless of need, must increase, and included a path, albeit not as steep as any would prefer, for increasing funding for all students.

But the excitement around LCFF has been tempered by concerns over specifics. A review of the state Department of Education’s page about LCFF has been frustratingly lacking in details, months after LCFF was adopted. WestEd, a non-profit based in San Francisco that has been designated the state’s “implementation partner,” has established a thinly populated website that raises more questions then it answers.

All of the above is anxiety producing for many reasons, not the least of which is that one of LCFF’s core principles—and indeed, one presented as a financial efficiency—was to push a significant amount of the responsibility for accountability to the local community. However, the adopted version of LCFF returned a significant amount of that authority back to the state Board of Eduction (BOE) and the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office. Even so, a series of regional input meetings (summarized here) was an early indicator that stakeholder priorities were valued and could help inform the guidance and templates that were to be created for districts to follow in creating their required “Local Control Accountability Plan” (LCAP).

Many were holding their breath in anticipation of the state BOE’s meeting on November 7th, which included a discussion of draft regulations for LCFF. Unfortunately the outcome of that meeting was tremendously disappointing Instead of the relatively straightforward initial premise of LCFF, that students in well defined groups with higher needs—English Learners, low-income students, and foster children—would receive increased funding to support those higher needs, the draft regulations give districts three options to choose from to demonstrate their fulfillment of this fundamental LCFF requirement. They must show that for this targeted group they are “spending more,” “providing more,” or “achieving more.” This is nothing less than a bizarre and disturbing abandonment of the basic premise of LCFF—to increase spending in order to provide more extensive educational services, thereby improving educational outcomes for students.

Two letters sent to Mike Kirst, the President of the state BOE, more fully articulate the above concern in a clear, powerful manner. The ACLU and Public Advocates sent one letter and seventy community organizations focused on education, civil rights and social justice combined forces in another letter. Both of these documents point out the danger in separating “spending more” from “providing more,” namely that it opens the door to give targeted student populations relatively minimal or meaningless additional educational services and programs while still meeting the new requirements. At the same time, decoupling the increase in programs and/or spending from outcomes (“achieve more”) means districts remain unaccountable for how funds are being used.

The draft regulations contain some noticeable nods regarding requirements to involve stakeholders such as parents in LCAP processes, including providing them with the information needed to meaningfully participate in planning and presumably evaluation. However such involvement is entirely insufficient if from the very start the transformative power of LCFF has been eroded with these new cafeteria style of implementation options. Hopefully the state BOE will listen to the strong voices of these state advocates and change course now before these draft regulations become permanent roadblocks to a better public education system for our state’s children.

Lisa Schiff is the parent of two children in the San Francisco Unified School Disrict and is a member of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco.

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