Staff and members of the State Board of Education promised to revise proposed spending rules for the new school funding system after hearing speed testimonies Thursday from Californians from all corners of the state. The speakers disagreed on what they wanted but largely agreed they didn’t like some of what they saw.

Sue Burr, a State Board member active in planning the funding regulations, promised speakers the board would consider their criticisms and comments.

Sue Burr, a State Board member active in planning the funding regulations, promised speakers the board would consider their criticisms and comments.

Promising that the revision the State Board will vote on in January “will look different,” board member Sue Burr, who has worked closely on the proposed regulations, said, “This was a first shot, a draft. We are open to what you had to say today.”

There was no consensus on what the 188 speakers – school superintendents, executives of advocacy organizations, parents needing interpreters, high school students and teachers – had to say during the orderly but often impassioned one-minute testimonies that went on nearly five straight hours. But that was predictable.

The Local Control Funding Formula unknots the state-imposed rules that had restricted the use of K-12 dollars, directs more money to disadvantaged children and shifts control over spending to school districts. The tension between advocates for equity and defenders of flexibility was reflected in comments on proposed options for meeting the funding law’s key requirement – that districts provide additional programs and services for high-needs students in proportion to the additional revenue that the funding law allocates for them.

Superintendents and administrators, with few exceptions (see letter by Michael Hulsizer, chief deputy for government affairs for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools)  praised the flexibility of allowing districts a choice of three options: spending more money on high-needs students; providing proportionally more services for them; or setting proportionally higher achievement goals and being held accountable for them, even if that doesn’t tie directly to more dollars for high-needs children.

Outcomes are why we do the work we do. Outcomes should drive the accountability piece,” said Tim Stowe, chief academic officer of Torrance Unified. “We should have local flexibility that will allow us to use resources and target those who need assistance.”

But parents and advocates for low-income students are suspicious of not tying any goal directly to more money. They viewed that as an end-run around the law’s goal of giving more to students who need an extra boost.

“Don’t flex equity,” was the refrain of the day.

“Make sure money is spent on what it is meant for and not on another broken promise,” said a parent leader from San Bernardino.

Sen. Holly Mitchell said support of many legislators was based on the commitment of more spending for students targeted for more funding.

Sen. Holly Mitchell said many legislators’ support for the funding law was based on the commitment for more equitable spending.

Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus, told the State Board “it is important to understand that for many legislators, our support (of the funding law) was based on discussion and commitments that equity for students with greatest needs will be honored.”

But representatives of teachers and districts viewed the option of strictly spending more on high-needs students as focusing on bean counting while handcuffing districts that want latitude to shift money to districtwide purposes benefiting all students.

“It starts to feel too similar to where we were with restricted categorical funds,” said Greg Magnuson, superintendent of Buena Park School District in Orange County.

Greg Magnuson said the intent of the Local Control Funding Formula is local control, and the State Board should err on that side of the law, then fix it in 3-5 years if it's not working to the benefits of disadvantaged students (John Fensterwald photo).

Greg Magnuson said the intent of the Local Control Funding Formula is local control, and the State Board should err on that side of the law, then fix it in 3-5 years if it’s not working to the benefits of disadvantaged students Credit: John Fensterwald, EdSource

“We support efforts to protect local flexibility and resist attempts to reinstate restricted dollars,” said a representative of the California Teachers Association.

Disconnect between regs and accountability plan

The new funding law requires that districts create a three-year Local Control and Accountability Plan setting goals for meeting eight state priorities, including improving student achievement, addressing school climate, expanding access to programs and meeting goals of readiness for college and careers for all students as well as subgroups of high-needs students. Districts would have to show how they’d spend money to expand services to meet the goals.

But the proposed proportionality regulations, by creating separate options for achieving more, spending more and providing more services, failed to make clear connections with the accountability plan. That, several board members indicated after listening to the testimony, was probably a mistake.

“I don’t understand three options,” said board member Bruce Holaday. “It could help build trust to have one option: provide more services.” That’s what parents wanted to talk about at a meeting on the Local Control Funding Formula he attended in Oakland, he said, listing “after-school programs, more counselors, training sessions for parents on how to prepare children for college and careers.”

“It starts with services, then attach money and achievement,” he said.

Board member Trish Williams said, “Spending more doesn’t mean much if you haven’t gotten anything for it. You need to connect achievement goals to what you are choosing to spend money on; sometimes more is less effective than changing what you are doing through innovation.”

“Spending more is important,” responded board member Patricia Rucker. “But you are right; you can be busy doing a lot of things, but are they the right things?”

Not connecting spending and achieving in the regulations, Rucker said, led speakers to “draw lines in the sand.” It also stirred deep-seated suspicions, noted board member Carl Cohn, a retired superintendent.

“The testimony showed a lot about people over the years feeling they got a bad bargain on a whole host of promises about serving students,” he said. “There will not only be a challenge for us, but also ACSA and CSBA” – the Association of California School Administrators and the California School Boards Association, organizations representing school administrators and school boards – “will have to step up and make sure the climate will be one of transparency, inclusiveness and participation.”

Roberto Fonseco of Los Angeles urged requiring each district to hire experts to train parents in budgets and financial information.

Roberto Fonseco of Los Angeles urged requiring each district to hire experts to train parents in budgets and financial information.

Parent after parent, some having driven from Coachella Valley, San Bernardino and Los Angeles, urged the State Board to hold districts accountable for reaching out and listening to parents. Some had specific demands. Roberto Fonseca, a parent from Los Angeles Unified, said the board should require that parents be trained and given access to budget data. “You want people to understand how things operate at a school site? You must train them at the school site.”

Cynthia Rice, director of litigation, advocacy and training with California Rural Legal Assistance, called for a complaint process for parents who have been excluded from participating in the accountability plan.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill in September – Senate Bill 344, by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-San Fernando Valley – that laid out requirements for parent engagement, and board members have shown no intent to be prescriptive either. Draft guidelines for what will become a template for the Local Control and Accountability Plan listed issues that districts should address and questions they should answer but not specific requirements. But local control requires community engagement, board members indicated.

“We need to be clear about how transparency might look and feel,” Holaday said.

The law establishing the funding formula requires the State Board to adopt the spending regulations by Jan. 31 and the template for the local accountability plan by March 31. The board has indicated that it intends to approve both in January, leaving no meeting in between to review the next revision.

Board members took no vote, and, other than their wide-ranging discussion, gave no explicit instructions on specific revisions to staff and consultants from WestEd, the San Francisco-based education agency that drafted the proposals.

“We have provided some guidance,” Board President Michael Kirst said, hopefully. “I know you will sort through it correctly.”

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: Equity issues, Featured, K-12 Reform, Local Control Funding Formula, Parents, Principals and Administrators, Reporting & Analysis, State Board of Education, Teachers and Admin · Tags: , , ,

Comment Policy

EdSource encourages a robust debate on education issues and welcomes comments from our readers. The level of thoughtfulness of our community of readers is rare among online news sites. To preserve a civil dialogue, writers should avoid personal, gratuitous attacks and invective. Comments should be relevant to the subject of the article responded to. EdSource retains the right not to publish inappropriate and non-germaine comments.


EdSource encourages commenters to use their real names. Commenters who do decide to use a pseudonym should use it consistently.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

  1. Concerned Parent says:

    As a concerned parent, I believe there needs to be much more oversight in school districts. Often school superintendents make decisions about money spending and this causes some schools to have more money than others. Often some low income areas are not in equity with those schools in afluent areas. Also, it seems that the opening up of the use of judgement for school districts to speand monies any which way, turns into inflated salaries and benefit plans into retirement that are not equal to the private sector. I believe there needs to be more mandated parent voice and much more oversight by some California authority. So often the low income parents do not offer a voice due to being afraid.

  2. Paul Muench says:

    That should read … substantial achievement gains …

  3. Paul Muench says:

    If districts were more uniform this wouldn’t be a problem. Desegregation is one path to that end. But it’s also a huge political hurdle. But so is teacher pay and teacher seniority. I’m curious to see which direction non-uniform districts choose. And yes, I do agree with the basic premise of the law that substantial achievement for poor and english learners will take non-uniform use of resources. Common Core has some good points, but its not going to solve this type of challenge.

  4. Prosie says:

    Prior to the LCFF there were specific amounts that had to be spent on specific students. We all know how that worked out. The LCFF is either going to be something quite new, or just the “same old thing”, repackaged. I can envision all students being served in innovative programs that simultaneously provide meaningful support to English learners and students in poverty. If such programs improve outcomes for those most in need, then “achieve more” should be a legitimate option. Doesn’t “spend more” simply provide a convenient “out” to failing districts that can claim compliance through spending, not results. Shouldn’t “achieve more” be the primary measure?

    1. navigio says:

      In theory, yes. But I guess the law is allowing districts to choose ineffective programs if this is what the community is calling for. Although that sounds facetious, there are many who believe current programs are ineffective yet there are others who are fighting to maintain them.

    2. el says:

      The problem with ‘achieve more’ as a primary measure is that it’s the one element a district does not directly control. There are no guaranteed outputs for any input. This is especially true for districts with a lot of turnover in their students and for districts with a lot of poverty – the measures they put into place to create a strong kindergarten may not benefit their district if the kids aren’t still there in 3rd grade.

      And there will always be noise in test scores – some ups, some downs. The idea that a couple of points of gain is cause for celebration but a couple of points down is horrific is somewhat at odds with the statistical reality… where those two results on a school level are within the measurement error.

      At the end of the day, the kids determine the test results more than any other actor.

      We want and need the best for our kids, for all our kids. The program as a whole is still underfunded. We want to give schools the freedom – when acting in good faith – to do what is right for kids, while also having a mechanism to correct schools and communities who do not.

  5. Richard Moore says:

    California has the lowest level of school and public library service in the nation. We would have to build 1000 public libraries and hire 5000 school librarians to be AVERAGE.

    Check back in 10 years. CA will still be at the bottom.

  6. Chris Reed says:

    “districts that want latitude to shift money to districtwide purposes benefiting all students.”

    Oh, my. They want latitude to give more money to teachers.

    I am beginning to fall off the Fensterwald bandwagon, one article at a time. How can any analysis of CA school spending not note the emphasis on adult compensation over “purposes benefiting all students”?

    1. John Fensterwald says:

      Didn’t know there was a bandwagon, Chris. Twelve steps may get you back on.
      There’s no question that there is the potential — and likelihood in some districts — that supplemental funding will be negotiated away. It’s something we’ll be watching, but more importantly, parents and community members must track. But let’s not be totally cynical. Flexibility — how to determine when it’s appropriate to use money for schoolwide and districtwide purposes — is a complex issue.

    2. Prosie says:

      Services to students are provided by adults who get paid. This is not some sort of dirty secret or ugly truth. I am perplexed by your comment. Is “money to teachers” shorthand for something we are all supposed to understand and knowingly nod in agreement to? I am willing to believe you have a valuable point to make. I would prefer more of a thoughtful explanation of that point, though.

    3. el says:

      Whether or not that’s the right thing to do is probably quite dependent on the current district situation.

      Some districts, when they had shortfalls, cut positions and increased class sizes.

      Some districts, when they had shortfalls, cut salaries and kept low class sizes. Many staff took effective pay cuts particularly when benefits are considered.

      Some districts, and some schools, have a problem attracting and keeping their teachers and additional compensation may help with that, especially if they are below the median in their area or have other challenges.

      Teachers and staff made a lot of sacrifices in some places to keep schools going. They did so with an expectation that there would be light at the end of the tunnel.

      A district that is already high on the pay scale probably shouldn’t be increasing. But by definition, around half pay below median.

  7. Doctor J says:

    California education is insane “Spend more” to teachers means pump up salaries and benefits — how will that increase student achievement ? “More services” to administrators means more consultants or boondoggle trips to hear consultants whose strategies are never implemented. “Parent involvement” to the oligarchy of educators means have a couple of large meetings with marshmallow powerpoints and check off that box — just patronize the parents. ALL THREE of the above mantras must be tied to improved student performance. Otherwise, its like the turkeys who went to a class to learn how to fly — the class was taught by eagles, and at the end of the day, the turkeys were soaring in the air and enjoying newly learned skills. As the class ended, all of the turkeys walked home. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. California education’s best diagnosis: INSANTITY.

  8. navigio says:

    I wonder if part of the problem is that use of the base grant is not even well-defined. If we could be sure that the base grant was actually sufficient to fund a reasonably quality education for everyone, then it might be much easier to define what additional need looks like. Instead, it feels like the fight is over the fear that the supplemental funds are going to be used to provide what we’d want a base grant to provide, at the expense of those with more needs, of course.

    Btw, I love that the state BoE meetings have closed captioning. I wish this were required for all local BoE meetings as well.

    1. John Fensterwald says:

      You raise a point that children’s advocates also raised in their letter to the State Board, although the issue did not come up yesterday at the hearing, navigio. There is a suspicion, valid or not, that the supplemental grant would be used for core services for high-needs kids unless those services are made clear. To your bigger point, as a superintendent observed, “It’s all about splitting a nut that is too small.” That will become clearer when parents and teachers realize that the yearly increase in funding under LCFF will be quite modest for many districts. It is easy to become distracted by theprojected full-funding figure in eight years.

      1. navigio says:

        Yes, this is one reason I think its important to understand how the base grant compares to the old revenue limit and how the supplementals compare to the old categoricals. I do think the suspicion is valid because I’m seeing it actually happen. In our district, the projected additional funds were used as justification to rescind some non-unduplicated personnel layoffs. I’ve heard others mention getting raises shortly after LCFF was passed (whether the justification was explicitly related to supplemental increases there, I do not know).
        However, I think its also important to notice that LCFF was designed to do this. By deciding to tie supplementals to districtwide unduplicated counts (instead of by individual school), any significant increase in funding will be directed to districts where, almost by definition, a districtwide initiative also benefits unduplicated students (here I am separating the justification for a programmatic action–a valid concern–from the equitable distribution of its affects). I think the real problems will exist in that middle ground and in high-needs districts that also happen to have extreme segregation.
        I especially agree with your last sentence. I think the battle cry from children’s advocates we are hearing about LCFF really has the problem of the nut being too small as its basis. And given the demographics in our state, focusing on students with higher needs is likely the most effective way to address that.

        1. Manuel says:

          navigio, it is not just that it is too small a nut to crack. It is that the state will likely put in rules that allow districts to take more from the top.

          This is exactly what has happened with Title I, Part A, which is the template LCFF depends on. It turns out that the state allows districts to take a certain percentage for “administration” costs and for “indirect costs.” Of course, any district is going to take the maximum allowed, whether they spend it or not. Then come mandatory “reservations,” followed by “allowed” reservations.

          When it is all said and done, the initial allocation shrinks significantly. For example, the Title I, Part A, allocation given to LAUSD for 2013-14 is $290 mil and $119 mil are going to these “reservations” that are, in reality, “adult” programs. It is insane and I bet you dollars to donuts that the SBoE will produce regulations that allow similar use of LCFF supplemental and concentration funds.

          This is what the activists are completely ignoring. Why? Are they afraid of getting dirty by wading through the numbers? Or that they are not sufficiently qualified to understand them?

          1. navigio says:

            Insufficiently qualified. But part of that is on the district for obfuscation: making it difficult to become qualified, and the other part is on the state for not requiring districts to operate in that manner.