By David M. Greenwald
Anyone familiar with local school funding discussions is aware of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and how the funding formula creates a financial disadvantage for school districts like DJUSD which are affluent and high achieving.
During the last discussion over the parcel tax prior to 2020, and the need for more local funding to create more equitable pay for teachers, the school board focused on the fact that districts like Davis were only getting about 90 percent of the full funding, but the recognition was that this all right if the funding formula helped create the kind of equity needed at the state level.
According to a new report, however, this does not appear to be the case.
As a report this month notes, “Signed into law in 2013, LCFF is one of the boldest public education experiments any state has ever taken to improve student outcomes through greater equity, transparency, local accountability, and meaningful community engagement.”
It notes, “Over the past decade, it has fundamentally changed how public schools are funded and held accountable.”
Two premier civil rights legal advocacy organizations who helped shape California’s landmark school funding legislation a decade ago, Public Advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, released “Realizing the Promise of LCFF: Recommendations from the First Ten Years.”
While the report highlights some bright spots, overall the findings are troubling.
“Instead of a complex, inefficient, and punitive categorical funding approach,” the goal of LCFF was to allow for ‘local funding flexibility.’” As the report notes, “In exchange, LCFF established new requirements for transparency, equitable distribution of resources to high-need students, and meaningful engagement with students, families, and communities.
“By establishing a new, more flexible and progressive way to fund schools and support their continuous improvement, the promise of LCFF was to improve student outcomes through greater equity, transparency, local accountability, and meaningful community engagement,” the report explains.
Moreover, “Over the past decade, it has fundamentally transformed how public schools are funded and held accountable.”
However, “the potential of the LCAP process to close long-standing opportunity gaps and create a culture of continuous improvement and collaborative decision-making with communities too often remains a promise unfulfilled.”
The report said, “To promote equity, districts must increase or improve services for low-income students, English learners, and foster youth in proportion to the amount of additional funding (supplemental and concentration funding) they receive.”
It continued, “Districts should use all of these funds in the year they received them, and any unspent supplemental and concentration funding must be carried over to the next year and remain committed to high-need students. However, many districts’ LCAPs fell short of meeting their obligations to high-need students.”
The law calls for school district to adopt LCAPs by July 1 and submit them to county offices of education. However, “districts frequently produced incomplete, inconsistent, and non-compliant LCAPs by the deadline, thereby undermining districts’ equity obligations.”
Issued as the legislature prepares to discuss the governor’s proposals to update the Local Control Funding Formula accountability system and using 72 districts as case studies, this report reviews LCFF implementation to offer guidance on improving equitable outcomes and community engagement as we approach the transformational policy’s 10-year anniversary.
“Equitable funding, meaningful community engagement and accountability for both are fundamental to LCFF. Many districts are still using equity funds for general services while marginalized students are not getting the programs and services they need,” said Alice Li, Senior Program Associate at Public Advocates. “Our review also revealed most districts are failing to engage students and families in an inclusive and authentic manner. Communities can’t address what they don’t know.”
While the report highlights some bright spots, “it underscores the need for significant innovation in order to strengthen accountability measures that can ensure a comprehensive strategic planning process and better engagement.”
Recommendations from the report include: more oversight, support and authority for County Offices of Education to hold districts accountable; investing in an innovative, usable, web-based strategic planning platform that can make funding transparent and easier to understand; strengthening community engagement to meaningfully address disparities in student outcomes and improve opportunities for all students, including Black students.
“It is concerning that 85% of districts received feedback that LCAP engagement was not accessible enough—meaning that students and families did not feel that they had meaningful input in the decision-making process,” added Victor Leung, Director of Education Equity at ACLU of Southern California. “Students and families know what they need and are often in the best position to identify and implement solutions. It is critical that they have a seat at the table when districts are contemplating how best to support them.”