Q & A: Funding California Schools for More Equal Opportunity
Signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on July 1, 2013, the Local Control Funding Formula aims to ensure that a higher percentage of state education dollars are directed toward California's highest need students and provides local school districts with more control over spending decisions. We sat down with Linnea Nelson, ACLU of Northern California staff attorney who specializes in education equity, to better understand how this new funding formula could help ensure more equal educational opportunities for all of California's schoolchildren.
Q: What is the Local Control Funding Formula (LCCF) and how will it impact California's schoolchildren?
A: This is a new and completely different way for California to fund its schools, so that more funding and resources are directed toward California's highest needs students – English language learners, low-income students and foster youth. There's an urgent need to close an enduring and troubling achievement gap between these highest need students and other California schoolchildren. The idea is to provide more funding and more services for these students so they can reach their educational goals.
Q: What are the school funding problems the Local Control Funding Formula seeks to address?
A: California does not fund its schools at a level that is comparable to other states, which is a severe problem. California ranks 49th nationally in per pupil spending. While the top 10 states spend more than $15,000 per student per year, and the average state spends $11,000, California invests only $9,000 in each of its students every year.
Passing Prop. 30 last November allowed many school districts across the state to stave off bankruptcy and continue operating. But the chronic underfunding of our schools remains an issue. The old system of school funding was based on a complicated and arbitrary formula to determine a base level of funding to all school districts. Districts would then receive additional money above and beyond that base level for additional programs, some of which targeted high need students. But that became a very arcane and bureaucratic system that too often resulted in funding not going toward the highest need students in the most efficient and effective ways.
This new formula should be much simpler: school districts get more money the more of these high need students that they have, and they are required to use that funding to better meet the educational needs of those high-needs students.
Q: How do we ensure that the additional money being given to schools to serve high-needs students is spent in a manner that actually benefits those students?
A: Locally, the most important thing to is have robust community/parent/student participation in the creation of the local control and accountability plans (called “LCAPs”) that each local school district will have to develop to detail how funds will be spent to increase services for high-needs students and improve the school climate for all students. It also imperative that the state board of education adopt regulations that are consistent with the language and intent of the Local Control Funding Formula to ensure more equal education opportunities for children with the greatest need.
Q: How can I help shape the ways money will be spent in my local community?
A: One important way is to stay informed and participate in the development of the local control and accountability plans. Districts are required to seek input from parents, teachers, and students. The districts also must establish parent advisory committees to advise the school board and superintendent on implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula. The committees must include parents and guardians of high-needs students. Additionally, if English language learner students make up at least 15 percent of the district's enrollment, then the school board and superintendent must get the input of the District English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC), which must include parents and guardians. Call your local school board and ask about how to get on these committees. And be persistent – don't take no for an answer. Read more about ways to be involved.
Q: How will we know whether the LCFF is being successfully implemented?
A: There are 8 priority areas for successful schools which must be addressed in the district's LCAP by laying out specific goals, actions, and funding for each of those areas. Those goals and actions will show whether LCFF is being successfully implemented. For example, one key indicator of success will be reducing the number of suspensions and expulsions that are handed down each year, and lowering the disparate impact those suspensions and expulsions have on students of color.
Another key indicator of success will be if more students, and particularly high-needs students, are not just scoring better on standardized tests but are graduating at a higher rate. Right now, there is an abysmal graduation rate for our English language learner students. Are high-needs students going to college at a higher rate? Do they have access to classes that leave them prepared and eligible to go to college? Do they have more access to counselors who can help them through that process? Is the process for deciding how this additional money will be spent transparent enough that parents and students have meaningful engagement with these decisions?
If we're doing better by measures like these, then we'll know the Local Control Funding Formula is having a positive impact.