Advocates: Start spending new money now on high-needs students

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Photo from Flickr

Two dozen organizations advocating for disadvantaged students wrote county and school district superintendents and charter school administrators Wednesday, reminding them that the new funding formula directing more money to low-income kids and English learners is now the law even though the initial regulations for the system are months away. The message: Start spending money on your high-needs children this year; don’t make commitments that might encroach on future obligations to these students.

The organizations are concerned that, without clear directives from the state, districts will treat additional dollars however they want with the new flexibility that the Legislature has given them.

The letter is intended to grab districts’ attention as they make final revisions, by Aug. 15, to their 2013-14 budgets. Some districts passed budgets without including extra dollars under the Local Control Funding Formula that Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in late June; other districts built in the dollars but have not allocated them to the targeted students.

“We believe identifying the current level of expenditures already being devoted to support services for these students and investing new LCFF funds in increased and improved services consistent with the new state priorities in law is critical to a successful transition,” the letter said.

The LCFF will be fully funded over eight years. The formula divides money into a base grant for all students; a supplemental grant of 20 percent for every low-income child, foster youth and English learner; and a concentration grant on top of that for districts in which targeted students comprise at least 55 percent of enrollment.

The LCFF says the supplemental and concentration dollars must be spent “in proportion” to the students who generated them. But the Legislature gave the State Board of Education until Jan. 31 to write regulations defining proportionality: Must dollars be spent on services specifically for individual high-needs students or can they be spent to improve services at a school site or districtwide that benefit all students? Must every dollar every year that the funding formula is phased in – about an eighth of full funding this year – be accounted for, and how?

“There’s a bit of a vacuum in ’13-’14,  but folks must understand that the implementation starts right away,” said Brooks Allen, the director of education advocacy for the ACLU of Southern California, one of the 28 groups that signed the letter. Even without regulations, districts must follow the spirit of the law, he said.

Until this year, there was state funding for high-needs students through prescriptive categorical programs such as the $944 million Economic Impact Aid. Those categoricals have been folded into the new funding formula, and regulations have disappeared with them. The Legislature allocated $2.1 billion to start phasing in the LCFF.

What worries advocates is that even those dollars might now be spent elsewhere, as districts, facing a backlog of needs and getting extra money for the first time in five years, hire back staff, end furlough days and negotiate increased pay and benefits.

“There is not carte blanche” for districts to spend however they want, said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of the Education Trust-West, based in Oakland, which also signed the letter.

Compounding the dilemma, Ramanathan said, is a lack of clarity. The state Department of Education has lumped districts’ LCFF allocations as one figure, instead of by components. Without a breakdown of base, supplemental and concentration dollars, there’s no baseline from which to measure spending decisions moving forward, he said.

“There’s no base and no guidance,” he said.

Some guidance is on the way.

Karen Stapf Walters, executive director of the State Board of Education, said Wednesday that the State Board and the Department of Education will be issuing a guidance letter and a sheet of Frequently Asked Questions to districts within the next two weeks. The State Board “will not want to get out ahead” of a transparent public regulatory process, she said, but the letter will state that “we think the intent of the law is clear, so follow that.”

There has been no decision on whether to spell out each district’s supplement and concentration dollars; hearings will explore this issue. But the letter will likely stress that districts should be open about their decisions, she said.

Ramanathan said that Ed Trust-West plans to monitor districts’ spending this year and to highlight those districts that make wise spending decisions openly.

Budgets can be revised throughout the year. Even if boards make insignificant changes by Aug. 15, they can reconsider LCFF again at a future meeting, said Tammy Sanchez, assistant superintendent of the Sacramento County Office of Education.

Filed under: Local Control Funding Formula

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14 Responses to “Advocates: Start spending new money now on high-needs students”

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  1. Anne White on Jul 26, 2013 at 12:31 pm07/26/2013 12:31 pm

    • 000

    As a local school district trustee, I hope that everyone turns on his creative juices and considers the LCFF environment a new world – if we can only be brave enough to embrace it. Yes, those who have used the opportunity for furloughs probably should return to 180 days of classroom work for both students and teachers; but why should we return particular programs as they were in place five years ago. If the service was effective and is still needed, should it be replaced to just what it was before the reductions? Probably not. Not only is the situation different now, but I would expect that the staff who provided the service have moved on. New professionals with different capabilities might suggest a new scheme to get the results, or even improved results.

    I hope that we with supplemental dollars to spend will keep our minds wide open to what will best serve our students who live in poverty and don’t speak English at home. 15 years ago one of our elementary schools took a field trip to the Exploratorium in San Francisco. When I say the school, I mean the entire school from custodians to the trustee in that area. The parent organization had saved for several years. There were more than a dozen buses. Everyone knew it was important to “get out of town” and to see what it was like over the hill. Some had never been over the Bay Bridge before.

    I hope that districts will include such activities when they spend supplemental money. We must build “‘cultural competence” in our students if we expect them to fully appreciate the literature we ask them to read, the ideas we ask them to consider, the science we ask them to understand.


    • el on Jul 26, 2013 at 8:47 pm07/26/2013 8:47 pm

      • 000

      Field trips like that are really important and really valuable. I would hope the kids get to go somewhere every year.

      In our school, we have established traditions for major field trips at multiple grade levels. Having it as that established tradition helped keep it safe even when the budget was cut to the bone. Rural kids and low income kids frequently haven’t traveled a lot, and getting them out of their niche helps them see the relevance of the larger curriculum.

  2. Paul Muench on Jul 26, 2013 at 2:33 am07/26/2013 2:33 am

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    “The message: Start spending money on your high-needs children this year; don’t make commitments that might encroach on future obligations to these students.” Given the typical budgets of districts, is it safe to assume this means teachers’ salaries? If so, I’m thinking this is more than a startup issue. With LCFF it seems we’re going to have to address teacher seniority and school assignments in a new way. Any news on this?


    • John Fensterwald on Jul 26, 2013 at 8:05 am07/26/2013 8:05 am

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      Salaries and benefits would be one area, for sure, since those comprise more than 80 percent of the budget, but I would assume not the only area. As for seniority and assignments, that’s the Local in local control. I would assume that offering incentives for master and mentor teachers to teach in a low-income school would be one potential use of supplemental and concentration money (one way to fund San Jose’s novel contract), assuming that can be negotiated.

    • Gary Ravani on Jul 26, 2013 at 12:33 pm07/26/2013 12:33 pm

      • 000

      An alternative way to think about these issues is to enhance CA’s tax and revenue stream so that school funding per child, in dollars adjusted for cost-of-living, in this state is in the top ten in the nation instead of the bottom ten (or even 49th of 50). Then you can compensate teachers adequately and improve, at least the resource part of it, working conditions at schools with high populations of disadvantaged students without draconian school “assignments.”

  3. Gary Ravani on Jul 25, 2013 at 3:31 pm07/25/2013 3:31 pm

    • 000

    Alert! From the Department of Be Careful What You Wish For: Many LEAs giving indications that they think the Local Control Funding Formula meant they were going to have “local control.”

    From the article above: “What worries advocates is that even those dollars might now be spent elsewhere, as districts, facing a backlog of needs and getting extra money for the first time in five years, hire back staff, end furlough days and negotiate increased pay and benefits.”

    So what category of spending noted above is not legitimate? Is there some part of increasing instructional/professional days by eliminating furloughs, lowering class size/restoring programs by hiring back staff, or insuring that teachers and other staff are adequately compensated that does not help all categories of students?

  4. Manuel on Jul 25, 2013 at 1:51 pm07/25/2013 1:51 pm

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    All this talk about what to do with the “new” money sometimes drives me up the wall. Why is nobody asking how much money there actually is?

    Yes, I know that John wrote that article back on July 18 essentially telling us that what one section gives, the other one takes away and the actual increase in base funds will be about $180/kid. (That, BTW, is not 12% of $6500 as the bar graph from SSC claims; it is 2.7% as John mentions it in the text.) As a consequence, no one has any real idea about how much money a district will get over and above what they used to get. Bickering over what to do with this money will get us nowhere because we have no idea how much can be distributed.

    What’s the point of asking for x% to be devoted to raised wages when there may not enough money to cover them? And what about all the other things that have to be paid out of this money? What will happen to all those programs that were there because categorical money paid for them?

    All that el listed in her (I hope I got the pronoun right) post are things that need to be addressed. But until we know how much there is, I don’t see the point in getting into a free-for-all fracas.

    OTOH, districts claiming to need guidance are clearly not being run in the children’s interests. They are just trying to pass the buck and do CYA. I am sure that if there is a leaky roof at the district’s office it will be fixed ASAP. Why can’t they do the same at the schools? Why does it have to take the threat of a Williams complaint for a toilet to be fixed?

    And so it goes…


    • navigio on Jul 25, 2013 at 2:06 pm07/25/2013 2:06 pm

      • 000

      Humans are simplistic and need a reference point in place of actual understanding. Knowing we get $x next year means nothing if you dont know how money is spent in education. But also knowing we got $y last year and had programs, a, b and c, well that provides a kind of reference, albeit a simplistic one given deficits, encroachment, changing programs, etc.

      But anyway, I completely agree. Especially about williams. But imagine if we didnt even have that..

      • Manuel on Jul 25, 2013 at 5:07 pm07/25/2013 5:07 pm

        • 000

        Indeed, navigio, there is a need for reference, specially when you are trying to figure out what “they”‘ve done with the money “they” got and what “they” intend to do with the money “they” claim “they” will get.

        My position is that if I know what “they” are supposed to get, I can see whether or not “they” actually spent it on what “they” said they were going to and, if I am lucky, I can see where the rat holes are. (I’d love to show you what “they” have released so far but I don’t have your email.)

        As for Gary’s comment, they are all legitimate expenditures. But when you are dealing with a district that has a 70% overhead* you simply have to watch very carefully which shell has the pea (or is that a bolita?).

        *I define overhead as UC does when it sends a grant application to the federal government: 100% is the amount that defines the costs to run the school sites (salaries and local expenses) and the rest is overhead (maintenance, central office, etc.). (I also take the liberty of excluding special ed expenses because those are mandated. Besides, if I include them, it distorts the ADA and the meaning of “running a school”!)

        • navigio on Jul 25, 2013 at 5:36 pm07/25/2013 5:36 pm

          • 000

          My alias, postfix a 1, at gmail..

  5. el on Jul 25, 2013 at 11:04 am07/25/2013 11:04 am

    • 000

    Improving the whole program is essential.

    The fact is that districts, schools, and teachers have been starved for years. Yes, some of that money will probably go for raises – raises against salaries that have been stagnant or even cut for years while responsibilities increased. If that improves teacher morale, enthusiasm, and retention, that benefits the kids.

    If the program is weak for all kids, it will be weak for low income, high-needs kids.

    Hiring back staff and filling vacant positions SHOULD benefit high-needs kids.

    Fixing roof leaks and decaying bathrooms benefits ALL kids, including the high-needs kids, if that’s where your school is today. No children learn well in such environments.

    If the idea is local control, then let it be local control, and watch where the money goes. Obviously, if you have a district that covers very high needs and affluent kids in different locations, you might want to pay more attention on which locations get what funding; that should be relatively easy to report. But at a school where you have a lot of high needs kids, it would be hard to spend this money on legitimate educational needs in a way that does not benefit them.

  6. John Fensterwald on Jul 25, 2013 at 9:12 am07/25/2013 9:12 am

    • 000

    navigio: In testimony at the July meeting of the State Board of Education and at the working group session run by WestEd on CDE’s and the State Board’s behalf, advocates have made their position clear that they favor emergency regs now, while the State Board writes the regs for the January deadline.


    • navigio on Jul 25, 2013 at 9:57 am07/25/2013 9:57 am

      • 000

      Sorry, I meant to say ‘local BoE members’. These are generally exactly the people who will be most likely to use funding ‘however they want’.

      Also, it is noteworthy that districts seem to want and need guidance on how to implement LCFF. The entire point of local control is to provide local control. Are they saying they don’t have that capability by asking for help? There is a telling article in the SI&A cabinet report that points out how facilities maintenance funding has been made permanently flexible and folded into the LCFF grant and districts are now stymied on how to act. This means local districts will have to decide on their own whether to maintain their infrastructure or whether to use that money for more direct educational purposes at the expense of facilities. All based on pressure from a community that likely does not understand that that has happened, nor what the impact of the latter would mean long-term.

      Oh, that Gerry is a sly one..

  7. navigio on Jul 25, 2013 at 8:33 am07/25/2013 8:33 am

    • 000

    Odd that the letter is not also addressed to BoE members as they are the ones who make the final decisions.

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