Advocates pile on criticisms of draft funding formula regulations

Kindergarteners in the Campbell Unified School District. Credit: Campbell Unified School District

Children’s advocates want to ensure that schools spend money equitably under the new Local Control Funding Formula. Credit: Campbell Unified School District

On the eve of a critical public hearing, key supporters of the Local Control Funding Formula are urging the State Board of Education to substantially change draft regulations instructing school districts on how to carry out important parts of the new law. The State Board will hold what’s expected to be a long and heated hearing on the proposals Thursday and then vote on the regulations in January.

The criticisms are made in two letters sent to State Board President Michael Kirst this week. Leaders of nearly 70 organizations focusing on children and education stated their “faith has been shaken” by proposals giving school districts too much control over how to spend supplemental funding for disadvantaged children. The three-page letter says that the State Board has steered away from the funding system’s promise, which Kirst and Gov. Jerry Brown also have expressed, of “a historic and transformative achievement that could fix the inequities we see every day in our districts and schools.”

The letter was signed by many of the community and civil rights groups that have been sparring for months with groups representing teachers, administrators, school boards and districts over tension between the funding law’s goals of providing both equity in funding and, as the law’s name indicates, local control over how money will be spent. Signers include Public Advocates, the ACLU, Education Trust-West and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. It was also signed by executives with the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, the California Endowment* and an organization representing businesses, the Bay Area Council.

Bay Area Council Vice President Linda Galliher also signed a second letter, more temperate in tone but equally critical of aspects of the draft regulations, with the signatures of the heads of the United Ways of California, the nonpartisan government reform organization California Forward and, most significantly, the president of Oakland-based Children Now, Ted Lempert. Lempert, a former assemblyman for San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, played a key role in navigating behind-the-scenes negotiations with Gov. Brown’s advisers, low-income advocacy groups and legislative leaders that smoothed the way for passage of the Local Control Funding Formula.

The draft regulations elaborate on a critical section of the funding law pertaining to the additional revenue that districts are receiving for high-needs students they enroll: foster youth, low-income children and English learners. It says districts must provide additional programs and services for these students in proportion to the increased money that these students generate.

The draft regulations were prepared for the State Board by WestEd, a San Francisco-based research and policy organization, after holding hearings and closed-door meetings with groups voicing a spectrum of views. They’re also in sync with Brown’s often stated position that school districts must have flexibility in deciding priorities and in steering money to school sites.

The regulations would give districts three options to satisfy the proportional spending requirement. They can spend more on high-needs students – the most direct and quantifiable option. They can provide proportionately more services. Or they can achieve more by setting and attaining proportionately higher student achievement goals.

Loopholes to avoid supplemental spending

The advocate groups argue giving districts three distinct options creates “a significant loophole” enabling districts to divert money intended for high-needs students. The “spend-more” and “provide-more” options should be tied together so that districts don’t end up spending “pennies on those dollars” for increased educational services.

And the “achieve-more” option “has no connection” to increasing services and creates the possibility that additional dollars could be spent “entirely on non-needy students, salaries, or central office expenditures without any real consequence.” There is a role for accounting for achievement, the groups said, but it should be part of the new Local Control and Accountability Plan, in which each district sets goals for all students – and specifically for high-needs students – and details how they’re going to achieve them. (Proposed guidelines and instructions to districts for writing their Local Control and Accountability Plans, or LCAPs, are also on Thursday’s agenda, and the advocates were highly critical of aspects of this proposal as well.)

TLempert Photo-sq

Ted Lempert

Lempert and signers of the second letter don’t categorically rule out an achieve-more choice, but they said it should be at least several years – and several preconditions met – before the State Board introduces it. The state is shifting to new Common Core and science standards, with new standardized tests. Meanwhile, there aren’t any reliable state measures of achievement.

“This doesn’t provide an objective tool for the state to ensure that districts have achieved their end of the bargain related to flexibility,” the letter said. Until there is a new state assessment system and the State Board creates measures for holding districts accountable – metrics or rubrics that are due in the fall of 2015 – the State Board should hold off on this option, they said.

Writers of both letters agreed on another criticism: the lack of clarity about when money for high-needs students can be used for districtwide or schoolwide purposes. This is particularly relevant in those districts where high-needs students are concentrated in a group of schools, creating the possibility that “funding generated by students in low-income schools is transferred to higher wealth schools” and districtwide spending not related to high-needs students, the advocates said.

In a related criticism, the advocates said that the regulations should spell out the core services that districts should provide with the base grant that districts will get for all students and services for targeted high-needs students. Otherwise, districts “will be free to play an unfortunate shell game,” in which the base grant is spent disproportionately on wealthier students, they said.

The letter that Lempert signed warns the board that the failure to address weaknesses in the draft regulations “could jeopardize the long-term success of (the funding system) and will be detrimental to the confidence stakeholders, such as parents, community groups and business leaders, have in the system as a whole.”

The advocates were blunt. Implying that the State Board isn’t focused on the governor’s commitment to fix inequities, they wrote, “Leadership can survive many challenges but not the loss of faith in its veracity.”

*The California Endowment is one of EdSource’s funders but has no control over editorial decisions.

John Fensterwald covers state education policy. Contact him and follow him on Twitter @jfenster. Sign up here for a no-cost online subscription to EdSource Today for reports from the largest education reporting team in California.  

Filed under: Local Control Funding Formula, Policy & Finance, Reforms, School Finance, State Board, State Education Policy

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19 Responses to “Advocates pile on criticisms of draft funding formula regulations”

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  1. Don Krause on Nov 11, 2013 at 4:06 pm11/11/2013 4:06 pm

    • 000

    I don’t understand why all students don’t get equal protection. Why should it be that students who don’t qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch get less funding? Don’t all kids deserve their rightful share of the pie? Since when is inequity equity?


    • navigio on Nov 11, 2013 at 8:21 pm11/11/2013 8:21 pm

      • 000

      It depends on whether you measure equity by opportunity or outcome.

  2. KSC on Nov 7, 2013 at 8:41 am11/7/2013 8:41 am

    • 000

    I’ve spent most of my adult years in volunteer roles working on behalf of underserved students to get them the support and services they need to have a fair shot at getting everything possible out of their schooling. From that perspective, I am very excited about LCFF.


    Locally, our district is floating plans for the LCAP process that will bring parents in exclusively for the conversation around the additional funds for English Learners, low income and foster students, but not for the base funding. It’s the categorical mindset taken to 11. This should be – in my mind – an opportunity to engage parents in local decision making about the WHOLE of how our students are taught and how funding supports our shared goals.

    In addition, the focus on delivering measures to close the gap raise concerns. This has been my passion, but I’m already hearing conversations that are so focused on the gap, that outcomes for all students are just not on the table. Parents want every child met where they are and carried on a smooth upward trajectory throughout their school years. It puts people like me (who work so hard to support at risk students) in a position to ask for a step back. It doesn’t benefit the students I advocate for when the services and activities take away from higher achieving students. Even worse, I’m hearing differentiation strategies that leave currently proficient and advanced students in a holding pattern in order to deliver data that shows the gap closing.

    I think we’re having the wrong conversation. We should steepen the trajectory for underserved students. Lift the floor yes. Drop the top? No.

  3. Jerry Heverly on Nov 6, 2013 at 8:27 pm11/6/2013 8:27 pm

    • 000

    Is this what you mean by a “shell game”? Our high school site council took a substantial chunk of its EIA money and spent it on funding release time for a veteran teacher to coach other, less experienced, ELA teachers I’d like to see that position funded by supplemental funds on the next budget cycle. The money freed up by this maneuver would likely produce funds not specifically directed at low income or ELA kids.
    I’d also point out that the Governor’s original idea was simply to give districts with higher need students more funds. I don’t think he felt it had to be spent only on low income and ELA students. That was something that legislators demanded. If a poor district raises salaries in order to attract better teachers I’m not sure that is an abomination. Obviously such an eventuality would upset the organizations that signed the aforementioned letter, but it’s not a given that such a thing would be evil.

  4. el on Nov 6, 2013 at 7:06 pm11/6/2013 7:06 pm

    • 000

    It’s a shame to lose the threading of comments, which makes a lot of this conversation quite different than it was originally.

    I believe that the $600 pass that Kimberley was discussing is $600 to ride the bus. I personally consider that an abomination. The obvious result is that parents drive their kids to school to avoid paying, wasting energy, spending more on gas, creating congestion, and making life a little bit worse for everyone. I find it remarkable that the courts find football an essential part of an academic program that cannot charge fees, and yet allow schools to charge for the ability to get to school in the first place.


    • navigio on Nov 6, 2013 at 7:10 pm11/6/2013 7:10 pm

      • 000

      Bravo! Your last sentence.

      Try the turning off the mobile theme.

    • Manuel on Nov 7, 2013 at 7:45 pm11/7/2013 7:45 pm

      • 000

      Sorry, el, I mistyped. I fully understood that it was $600 to ride the bus but my brain somehow directed my fingers to type in “parking” in there. Hence my reference to transportation funds not affected, for better or worse, by LCFF.

  5. GeorgeHuff on Nov 6, 2013 at 1:23 pm11/6/2013 1:23 pm

    • 000

    This objection letter shows fear that the many listed privatization “non-profits” will not be getting their tax subsidies as readily, if the categories of “needy” are blurred.

    How self-serving, to bring in a few real civil rights organizations, such as ACLU. What would be so bad if LEAs studied reinstating curricular opportunities that engage all students, and which will, as research shows, reduce the number of at-risk students? We know what’s wrong: Taxpayer money originally spent for comprehensive public schools will not be as readily siphoned off to the corporate-funded think-tanks that stand to profit even more, by sponsoring newly packaged materials to meet newly-packaged standards. Corporate funded charters, who capitalize on recruiting the “needy,” will have a more difficult time if the needy aren’t kept as readily identifiable, to be fed with more “intervention materials,” more of what’s not working.

    Gov. Brown has shown himself to be reflective and gutzy, in attempting to separate the wheat from the chaff. He may also be calling districts’ bluffs, that they understand, and can provide for, their students best. Gov.Brown’s & others’ vision may not be perfect, but this new LCFF deserves a chance to stand as it is, with interpretations left to the districts. Special interest groups,which abound in the letter’s signatories, even ACLU, can wait to see how this works. At the end of one full year of usage, evaluate the workings of the LCFF by respectable research. Complain, if necessary – based on evidence, not on fear of losing perks.

  6. Chris Stampolis on Nov 6, 2013 at 7:29 am11/6/2013 7:29 am

    • 000

    The above article well describes the crisis before us: wealthy, mostly white, registered voter parents will lobby for funds to be allocated to the least needy schools, while the schools populated by socioeconomically-disadvantaged and English language learner students will have less organized, impactful lobbying.

    Bottom line is that suburban and semiurban school boards will have to choose – in micromanaging detail – between the students and the voters. Bay Area school districts in particular will face politically unpalatable choices because the State legislature has chosen to allow the reshift money towards the rich sides of their districts. For almost 50 miles of Peninsula, and another 50 miles of the East Bay, there literally are two sides of the railroad tracks, but on each side of the water, the wealthy sides of these smaller school districts weight the numbers so heavily, it is almost impossible for each overall wealthy district to qualify for funding supplements. There is enough money to close the opportunity gap, to offer extended school days, to redirect funds from wealthy “sides of town” to schools dominated by students of need. But those choices come at a political price few school board members or administrators will champion. As one K-12 schools trustee, I know it will take extraordinary courage to decide that in a scarcity system, some kids do need more public resources than other kids.

    Families that can afford to chip in more funds do that already – via travel, tutoring and general quality of residential life. So the playing field differences between income stable property owners and much less stable renters already is imbalanced. Young students who have few financial options are heavily dependent on a community’s government funded network to make up the difference between wealthy and poor.

    I frequently hear advocacy from property owners to “Stop putting poor kids and immigrant kids first.” Those voices clearly are the loudest in PTAs and PTOs and general school district politics.

    Governor Brown, Dr. Kirst and Democratic legislative leaders, please don’t let your legacy of school finance reform be a multibillion dollar shift of resources from students of need to the families who already are in the top 20 percent of local communities’ finances.

    – Chris Stampolis
    Governing Board Member, Santa Clara Unified School District
    Member, Democratic National Committee
    408-771-6858 / 408-390-4748


    • Kimberley Beatty on Nov 6, 2013 at 1:22 pm11/6/2013 1:22 pm

      • 000

      Our “wealthy” suburban school district of 14% free & reduced lunch students suffered 40 years of below state average Revenue Limit Funding. Under LCFF we will receive in 7 years approx. 30% less funding per student than the state average. For the last several years my 4 children have sat in class sizes of between 43 and 50 students from middle through high school. Parking lots are jammed because bus passes are upwards of $600. Why shouldn’t I be fighting for more resources?

      • navigio on Nov 6, 2013 at 3:10 pm11/6/2013 3:10 pm

        • 000

        Because it comes at the expense of other students who need it even more?

        Sarcasm aside, you should be. But your situation is not much different than many others in this state. What we should be fighting for is more funding for everyone (prop 30 and then LCFF were the shiny things that diverted our attention from that goal).
        Short of that, a parcel tax is also an option. That is one way to keep extra tax burden within your district only.

        • Manuel on Nov 6, 2013 at 4:11 pm11/6/2013 4:11 pm

          • 000

          Not knowing the particulars of Ms. Beatty’s school system, I’d be curious to understand what she is saying about “below state average Revenue Limit Funding.” Isn’t the Revenue Limit to be within a couple of hundred dollars for all school districts?

          To use, however, an “average” to talk about funding in a state that is 57.7% poor (latest figures available at DataQuest are for 2011-12) and then reveal that her district is 14.7%, well, it is not surprising that her district will be below the average.

          That’s why Gov. Brown came up with the “base,” “supplemental,” and “concentration” grants tier levels.

          Now, why are is a relatively wealthy district having class sizes of between 43 and 50 students? Something has to be wrong with their budgets. (This, BTW, is the average class size in LAUSD’s high schools. Something is wrong there too.)

          And why is a parking pass $600? Is this district so spread out that kids can’t walk or bike to school? (And, oh, yeah, Transportation is something that was not touched at all by LCFF, I think.)

  7. el on Nov 6, 2013 at 7:22 am11/6/2013 7:22 am

    • 000

    One way to maybe make this work is to allocate funding to schools and then give schools the opportunity to kick it back to the district for district-wide initiatives that the schools believe in.

    I caution people who are excited about allocating it on a school by school basis that it could introduce substantial volatility into your funding stream – that is, when a school has 500 students and 10 move away, that’s a loss of around one teacher salary’s worth of income. Small districts deal with that by having much larger reserves on a percentage basis.


    • navigio on Nov 6, 2013 at 10:04 am11/6/2013 10:04 am

      • 000

      Interesting idea, but I have a hard time seeing schools giving something back as most site-level proponents are that way because they believe money is best spent at the site. It also seems it would need to be coordinated between schools in an ‘i’ll put mine in as soon as you put yours in’ kind of way. Without parental buy-in, it seems like there would be real problems if a principal decided to forfeit some of the money generated by the site’s unduplicated students.

      Last year our district lost about 3% of our traditional enrollment, with a majority of those going to a new charter targeting minority students specifically. Given the other stories about charter creation becoming more lucrative under LCFF, I would not be surprised to see such a trend accelerate (the gov is ‘pro-charter’ after all). I mention this because it can also introduce significant volatility even in larger districts.

      • el on Nov 6, 2013 at 2:54 pm11/6/2013 2:54 pm

        • 000

        On the north coast, small rural school districts have that kind of relationship with the County Office of Education – money is sent to the district, but the districts often opt to share services through the COE. For example, our county does quite a bit of professional development this way.

        It certainly changes the relationships and the understandings everyone has with one another.

        I think another way to address it is simply to report, with extreme clarity, the amount generated at each school via ADA and the amount spent there. I’m mulling with a spreadsheet to see if I can come up with something that makes sense – but for example, you should be able to see that at School A $500 per student is spent on science and that at School B $800 per student is spent on science, etc.

        • navigio on Nov 6, 2013 at 3:14 pm11/6/2013 3:14 pm

          • 000

          I expect that would require schools (and districts) to report financial data that they currently do not report, correct?

          • el on Nov 7, 2013 at 9:34 pm11/7/2013 9:34 pm

            • 000

            Correct, the information I’m talking about is not something you can get from the required reports now. You’d need to combine the budget with a master schedule and the class counts to get most of it, and then you’d still need to find how many kids were served by special ed, ELD, sports, and then figure out where aides are assigned. You’d also need a breakout of classroom materials budgets.

            • Sue on Nov 8, 2013 at 8:11 am11/8/2013 8:11 am

              • 000

              A while back, when our district was using zero based budgeting, we got close – in the neighborhood, not in the house – to budgeting this way. The thinking went something like this:

              Build your school. Who are the children enrolled? What are their specific needs? Staff and develop programs accordingly. Then look at the facilities, supplies, programs and services those kids need. What are there shared needs across the district? Centralize those elements and apply the subsequent economies of scale in proportion to the student body.

              Done right, you only need to do this once on a big scale for the entire school district. After that, the model only needs tweaking as you look annually at the change in the student body at each school site. Assessment factors in as a test: how did kids do? Where do they need help? How does that change the resources needed?

              One caveat, and a hurdle that was never addressed, is that a model like this could include staff mobility across the district. It assumes that teachers and other staff with specific skills suited to a particular type of student would relocate to the school having the greatest concentration of students with needs best met by their skill set. It’s a very student and neighborhood centered model, but it means challenging the notion that a teacher belongs to a physical space. In geographically small districts its less of an issue, but it is a workplace and work conditions concern that ended the conversation.

  8. Paul Muench on Nov 6, 2013 at 5:31 am11/6/2013 5:31 am

    • 000

    Well seems like this is an opportunity to sing my old tune again. We should base both funding and spending on schools. Its fine if districts handle the money for efficiency and consistency sake. It seems to me that a school based approach will be much better at building the trust LCFF needs to succeed.

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