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Brown details how to hold districts accountable under funding reform



Responding to criticism that he is offering flexibility without accountability, Gov. Jerry Brown has offered up specifics on how he would hold school districts responsible for extra money he is proposing to give them for high-needs children under his proposed sweeping reforms of how California schools are funded.

Under his plan:

  •  Districts and charter schools would be required to write or update an annual “local control and accountability plan” spelling out how the additional dollars would be used to improve the academic success of the targeted students – low-income children, foster youth and students learning English – and whether there would be enough money allocated in the district budget to carry out the plans.
  • School officials would be required to consult with parents, teachers and members of the community in writing the plan and to hold a hearing on it.
  • The State Board of Education would create a “template,” providing guidelines and requirements on what must be in the district plan.
  • The plan would need the approval of the county superintendent of schools as part of the county’s annual review of the district’s budget.

Brown included the seven-page framework in a much-anticipated 154-page education “trailer bill” that he released on Friday (see pages 110-116 under section 308: Local Control Funding Formula). A trailer bill is supplementary legislation that lists  changes in statutes needed to implement the state budget. Although trailer bills are intended to be technical fixes of the law, recent governors have inserted major policy initiatives, like Brown’s “local control funding formula,” into trailer bills in an effort to shortcut the legislative process.

Brown is proposing to relax most controls over state K-12 funding. He would redistribute a portion of the money based on a formula giving a third more per high-needs student and extra money on top of that that for districts with high concentrations of those students.

His initial proposal last year didn’t include requirements to track how that extra money would be spent; he said the plan would come later. That was one reason some advocates for funding reform withheld their support. Meetings in November and since then between his aides and advocates for minority children produced the latest plan. Three heads of children’s advocacy groups said this week that they were encouraged by what they read.

“The administration has been very responsive,” said Ted Lempert, president of Oakland-based Children Now, who has represented some of the advocates in discussion with Brown’s advisers. “There needs to be a balance between the governor’s focus on flexibility and assurances that are strong enough to see that money gets to the kids intended.”

“We need more detail, but in general, we see positive elements so far,” said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Education Trust-West, also based in Oakland. He praised the requirement that a district’s budget be tied to the plan for student achievement and the commitment to parental involvement in the plan’s development, whether by strengthening the local school site councils or by creating new advisory panels. The county superintendent’s authority to act, once an accountability plan’s flaws have been identified, needs to be clarified, he said.

“There’s a lot in there to like,” agreed John Affeldt, managing attorney at Public Advocates, a nonprofit law firm that has sued the state over low levels of funding for high-needs students. “The governor listened to us about wanting more specific plans for student achievement.”

County offices of education already oversee school districts’ budgets and finances and they monitor districts under the 2004 settlement of the lawsuit in the Williams v State of California case to see that low-income schools have textbooks, qualified teachers and adequate facilities. So the approval of the districts’ accountability plans would be an extension of their existing oversight responsibilities.

However, the requirements of the Williams settlement are not comparable to Brown’s intent, said State Board of Education President Michael Kirst, who’s also a close adviser to Brown. The Williams settlement is very prescriptive, with detailed checklists and a process for legal recourse for lack of compliance. Brown is proposing a shift in control from the state with deference to local officials on how money for targeted students should be spent, Kirst said, in keeping with Brown’s oft-cited “principle of subsidiarity”.

Kirst said he doesn’t know what the State Board will eventually require of districts under Brown’s plan, but there would be extensive opportunity for public suggestions under the months-long process for adopting regulations. The Jan. 1, 2014 timeline for the State Board to complete the regulations under the trailer bill assumes that the Legislature would pass finance reform as part of the budget by July 1 this year.

Elements in a district’s accountability plan

The trailer bill put forward by Brown does, however, list some specific requirements that a district’s accountability plan must address. The district would have to identify goals and actions that districts would have to take to:

  • Implement the state’s content standards, like Common Core;
  • Increase the API scores and state assessment results for the school and all significant subgroups of students;
  • Improve high school graduation and attendance rates and lower the dropout rate;
  • Increase the percentage of students who qualify for the University of California and California State University schools, take Advanced Placement courses and enroll in career technical courses;
  • Address the specific needs of foster youth, low-income children and English language learners;
  • Provide “meaningful opportunities for parent involvement” by, at a minimum, supporting a school site council or taking other measures, such as appointing an ombudsman for parents.

Ed Trust-West and Public Advocates have called for tracking supplementary dollars to the school level to ensure funding isn’t diverted elsewhere or for other less needy students. They support having more decisions made at the school site level. Ramanathan said he’s disappointed that Brown’s principle of subsidiarity ends at the school district’s central office rather than at the school level. Affeldt said there needs to be more transparency on how dollars will flow to the school site.

Kirst said he doesn’t envision requiring separate accountability plans for each school, although districts could require them on their own if that’s what their communities want.

Affeldt added one more concern. Under the transition period leading to full funding of the Local Control Funding Formula – a period of seven to 10 years –  districts would have to account only for spending levels for targeted groups as of 2012-13. Meanwhile, they’ll be gradually getting more money for targeted groups each year, Affeldt said.

Lempert said that discussions regarding Brown’s plans are continuing. He expects the final bill will include additional accountability language, though he wouldn’t predict what that might be.

Filed under: High-Needs Students, Local Control Funding Formula, Parent Involvement, Policy & Finance, Reforms, School Finance, State Board, State Education Policy

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27 Responses to “Brown details how to hold districts accountable under funding reform”

  1. Chris Stampolis said

    on February 6, 2013 at 6:26 am

    Especially in districts with wide spreads of family income, accountability at the school level is necessary. Many suburban districts’ challenges (and failures) only come to light with disaggregation of data because very high achieving top end kids can post scores that cancel out low proficiency by others. Governor Brown must demand high performance across all segments and from all schools or pressure from more affluent and communicative demographics will conflict with the needs of students whose families are unlikely to advocate as effectively. Too much flexibility for districts will not help students of families that cannot yet vote.

    Chris Stampolis
    Trustee, Santa Clara Unified School District

  2. navigio said

    on February 6, 2013 at 7:38 am

    I’m sorry for being so negative, but Brown’s ‘plan’ is a joke. We already have a plan like this (in fact almost EXACTLY). Its called the Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA). It is a required document that must be modified/updated yearly by the school site council (parents, principal, teachers, with input from ELAC, AAPC, GATE, etc, etc) and then approved by the local BoE. This plan even includes an assurance approval of the school’s safety and emergency operations/response plan. All of this happens, every year, already. There is even a template! (or more than one) Problem is, most dont put anything of real value in this document. Furthermore, district staff (often including school staff) seem to think this plan is a waste of time. Then BoE members generally dont read the plans, but simply pass them wholesale for the entire district at once (that furthers the impression by those who have to work on it that it doesnt matter much what they put in it).
    As Chris says, disaggregation is often the only way to ever find out that something is or is not happening. Ironically, much disaggregated data is protected by privacy laws (when you start getting to smaller groups, such as demographic groups within a school, or kids from single grades or classrooms), and thus parents do not have access to it.
    So I guess I would ask Brown why he thinks this approach would be different. Note that the current SPSA is a requirement and funding hinges on its approval. That fact has done nothing to make it a document or process of quality. IMHO of course…

    • Ann replied

      on February 6, 2013 at 7:44 am

      Exactly, Navigio. This is simply an expansion of an already bureaucratic exercise that means essentially nothing and has zero consequences for not meeting its stated goals. It will lead to more money spent away from the classroom.

    • navigio replied

      on February 6, 2013 at 8:01 am

      I will add that the safety plan process is mandated to include having the mayor be given an opportunity to come to a public meeting at the school (among many others, including union reps, parent groups, student gov, etc). Note this is a requirement for EVERY school. They are also encouraged to contact local churches, and business and civic leaders for inclusion. An inquisitive parent at our school brought up this curiously unadhered to section of ed code in a district level meeting recently and the attendees literally laughed out loud. That was not quite the response s/he was looking for.

    • Kaisermomof1 replied

      on February 6, 2013 at 7:35 pm

      Well said! the SPCA is already burdensome and not taken or applied properly depending on whether a school even has an SSC.

    • el replied

      on February 7, 2013 at 10:49 am

      When our school put more into the SPSA to make it a more meaningful document, it strayed too far from the template and made the Feds mad. Oh well.

  3. John Fensterwald said

    on February 6, 2013 at 10:10 am

    Navigio: With substantial dollars at play for targeted students, will this make a difference in the seriousness with which parents and the district treat the accountability plan or plans (sounds like you think plans at a school level may be a waste of effort?)

    • Navigio replied

      on February 7, 2013 at 9:33 am

      Hi John. It’s a good question. I’m not sure that the amount of money is necessarily the determining factor in whether the process is a quality one (i.e. helps kids). Furthermore I believe there is a subtle distinction between the decisions that are made on how to spend the money and the justification for why you’re spending the money. Ideally those would be coupled but they do not have to be, and I think our current site plan process is/can be a perfect example of how that decoupling can exist. 
      Regarding your question of whether I think it’s a waste of time I guess I would just say that there is a distinction between whether something is a value in theory and whether the implementation is lacking. I actually see potential in the school site council and site plan process but that potential is often unfulfilled and I believe there are well understood reasons for that. Clearly there are exceptions but the dynamic is complex and there are a lot of pieces that need to come together in order for it to work. My concern in this case was trying to define something that already exists to achieve a goal that the currently defined process isn’t reaching. 
      I know I’ve said this before but maybe it bears repeating. One of my biggest concerns with education policy is the fact that we sometimes create ideas with some value but then we fail to implement them either through a lack of resources, simply bad  administration or even a failure to fully think through the process and its implications (poorly defined– I think this is the most common when it comes to issues with Ed code) and then we use the resulting failure or chaos as a justification to claim that the idea itself was without value. I do understand that at some point pragmatics has to come into play, but if there’s any policy area where their barriers should be the greatest for that to happen it should be public education. 

      • Denise replied

        on May 29, 2013 at 9:28 am

        Navigio and others are right on point! The Site Plans, which feed into the District Plan, are already in place but sometimes underutilized. For years the plans have been used as a “check list” for compliance which is not their intent. Over the past few years our district and many others, have really been using the documents to drive instruction and develop interventions or re-teaching opportunities for students. We have seen progress sometimes slower than desired, but progress. It starts with training School Site Councils on their responsibilities. They are not to “rubber stamp” ideas. They are to provide push back and ask detailed questions about the services. It is our job to empower the parent community with how learning happens. If done right, parents are more involved and bring lots of ideas to the table.

        It all starts with STUDENT DATA by subgroup, not names, but by overall subgroup. Once the areas of need are determined it is the site administrator, instructional staff and the districts responsibility to find research proven curriculum/programs that address the areas of need. Schedules must reflect opportunities to provide the intervention or re-teaching etc.

        MONITORING is the key! Students set individual goals (they have to be involved in their own learning), teachers monitor individual student progress, principals monitor classroom/grade level/subject area progress and share it with School Site Council (SSC) and English Language Advisory Committees (ELAC), the district office monitors site progress by sub groups and shares it with the community advisory committees (District ELAC and Local Educational Advisory Committee (LEAC) etc.) and the local Board. ALL ARE INVOLVED! All this work is reflected in the Single Plan for Student Achievement that as stated by others, is a plan that is written each year and approved by site level committees and then the Board. At each grading period sites are required to present data to the parent committees and record analysis of the progress including any changes needed to improve the program. These individual site plans are all embedded within the overall Local Educational Agency Plan (LEAP) which is the document that retains focus for all district decisions. When implemented fully it is a very thorough process that does result in student achievement sometimes slow progress, but none the less progress for students. Refining and monitoring this process would give the accountability measures needed to watch student achievement off all subgroups.

        What we do not need is yet ANOTHER document that takes up time to create and develop and adds yet another meeting that uses up our valuable time because we already have a process that satisfies the desired accountability if used accordingly. We need to streamline the current process and the government agencies need to use the information from these current requirements to see what is working for kids. The state conducts the Federal Program Monitoring (FPM, replaced the old CPM) process and gathers great data on how districts are using the process for achievement. Let the bureaucratic system use data from the system it already has in place. Research shows implementing anything new takes time to see results. Let us stay the course.

    • el replied

      on February 7, 2013 at 11:00 am

      I don’t think the school plans are a waste of effort – indeed, I think they’re a good thing.

      I think that to some extent mandatory content and mandatory template and false statements that are required degrade the document.

      I don’t know if you’ve ever written one, but for example, I encourage you to participate in an exercise where you are expected to justify the purchase of computers based on the premise that the will increase your school API.

      It is not possible to know that, or to enforce that.

      We could talk about how we plan to enhance our educational offerings with the new computers, but we cannot promise that buying a cart of 20 laptops will add 5 points to our API. These templates INSIST that we do so. It is wrong, and it degrades the process.

      What these plans are good for is creating a discussion among the people who write the plan – which should be parents, teachers, staff, and administrators – and some thoughtful text about the problems facing the school and the initiatives and priorities of the SSC committee. As such, this plan CAN be good reading – if it is allowed to be. And since they are public documents, they should be useful resources to outsiders or to parents wanting to know more about the school and the people who care about it.

  4. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman said

    on February 6, 2013 at 11:48 am

    Back to the drawing board, Governor.

    We don’t need “an expansion of an already bureaucratic exercise” that means nothing and has zero consequences. And we worry that it will mean “more money spent away from the classroom.”

    Plans at a school level for using this money appropriately are needed: what we don’t need are ludicrous time-wasting exercises such as what the SPSA requires and is so well-described above.

  5. Priorities said

    on February 6, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    From Quality Counts 2013, California ranks 49th in the nation in per pupil funding for K-12 education. CA Budget Project reports that 2013-14 spending on K-12 is $854 per pupil below what we were spending in 2007-08 (adjusted for inflation). We have the largest class sizes in the nation. Why shouldn’t we be arguing about CA’s lack of prioritizing our children’s futures rather than how the peanuts are being spent?

    There are some good and bad things about the Governor’s approach, but the bottom line is there just isn’t enough money spent per pupil to make a difference, one way or another.

  6. John Affeldt said

    on February 6, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    As one would expect, there is wide variability in how well School Site Councils and Single Plans for Student Achievement work at different schools. At some sites, they have proved to be effective mechanisms for parent (and teacher) empowerment. At others, much less so. But, as John F’s question suggests, under the Governor’s plan, the district and school plans should become much more engaging and meaningful exercises if, as potentially proposed, they’re dealing with how the school is to spend a new, very significant chunk of funds (an extra 35% of the school’s base funding for low-income/EL students; more in schools in districts with high concentrations of disadvantaged students) on low-income and EL students and in new, largely unrestricted ways. Currently, the comparatively limited and comparatively restricted categorical funding that the SPSA deals with is often already dedicated to a few key teacher positions before the School Site Council ever meets.

  7. Bea said

    on February 6, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Variability is right. Templates are fine, but what would also help is a descriptive model of process and composition of the group of people that need to be at the table.

    I’ve worked on school plans as a parent member of site council in one district under 3 different school leaders. In one case, we poured over student data, gave direction to the teacher-members to bring back anecdotal information about the kids most at risk, and funded very targeted programs designed to meet the needs of those kids, that year, with their particular struggles. The data was reevaluated at least three times during the year and tweaks were made accordingly. We also looked for signs that the targeted support was having a positive impact on the overall cohort, to ensure were keeping all kids on an upward trajectory.

    Because we didn’t have fancy longitudinal data capture tools, we built them ourselves and tracked each student (by number) for consistent progress, year to year. Good stuff — and it was effective.

    At the other schools, a staff member was assigned to plug test scores into graphs and pie charts and site council was asked to sign off on incremental goals like “All 4th graders will increase CST scores by 4 points” in order to “get approval to fund our staff positions”. I never heard any discussion about real live kids’ specific needs, just that the plans were a necessary hurdle to “keep Miss J’s job”. So there’s that.

    The thing that jumped off the page here is the new role for County Superintendents. This is a terrible, misguided idea that cannot be allowed to go forward. Increasingly County Offices are COMPETING with districts for students outside of their traditional very tightly conscripted alternative and court school programs. They were livid about weighted student funding because it threatened their ability to skim dollars that never reach districts. And now they’re going to be put in the position of overseeing academic program decision making? It’s a conflict of interest at minimum and a gross overstepping of authority in any case.

  8. Transparent said

    on February 6, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Navigio is on the mark here. The public, including parents of enrolled students, is woefully unprepared to ask the right questions and hold schools and districts accountable. There is little to no monitoring and evaluation of programs and outcomes in SSC system as I know it in Los Angeles…hell, I visited Desert Trails Elementary in November and asked the Principal for a copy of the SPSA. I was given the last approved plan…from 2010.

    I have a question that no one seems to have yet addressed: what will the intersection of the State’s Common Core plan and the weighted student formula look like? Winners and losers all over again?

  9. Tuvac said

    on February 6, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    As a teacher I’ve been on our School Site Council. Unless engaged teacher, parents, students or adminstrators on this council ask the tough questions and challenge what’s put into this document is can become a “rubber stamped” exercise. I challenged at one point the arbitrary 5% as a increase of proficiency goal year after year in Math, Science, Social Science and English that alwasy appeared in our school’s document. To our Administration’s credit, this was then brought to the Departments for their input and the numbers changed. I will also give credit to the parents and students who were a part of this council. They were engaged and brought up issues that led to change.

    • el replied

      on February 7, 2013 at 11:06 am

      The templates insist on those ridiculous “5% increase in proficiency” goals. They require that you put in some goal that can be measured by test scores or other hard data, not softer goals.

      The last thing we need is more restrictions and templatization and “goal focused” statements in the document.

      At the end of the day, your graduation rate is controlled not by the SSC or even by the school but by the students. A school can make changes that they hope will increase them, but if the graduation rate didn’t increase after you added a full time reading tutor, that doesn’t mean that adding the reading tutor wasn’t still a valuable addition to the program.

  10. Paul Muench said

    on February 7, 2013 at 5:14 am

    OK, I can play the broken record again. We already have mechanisms for school accountability, SARCs (School Accountability Report Cards). Let’s improve on existing mechanisms and open up school accountability participation to the entire community. (How many SSCs meet at 3:15pm on Tuesday once a month?) Plus what about our great new API system Governor Brown signed into law (SB 1458, see EdSource Today of September 27th 2012)? Wasn’t that supposed to revolutionize how we hold schools accountable? (ok, I’m not a believer but at least he should be) Why add one new layer of bureaucracy to a system that already has plenty and fracture California education even further.

  11. John Fensterwald said

    on February 7, 2013 at 8:40 am

    Paul, the new accountability measures under SB1458 won’t take effect for a few years; the committee advising the State Board on what to include beside test scores meets for the first time this month.

    • Paull Muench replied

      on February 7, 2013 at 3:38 pm

      Not having agreed upon what outcomes a good school should strive for seems to be an indication to proceed with caution.

  12. Merrill Vargo said

    on February 7, 2013 at 8:57 am

    The Governor’s proposal, at least in theory, addresses a longstanding but not very well understood problem in education finance and that is the fact that plans, including both the currently-required LEA Plan (or LEAP) and the required school plan, called the Single Plan for Student Achievement (or SPSA)are developed through a process that is separate from the process for developing the school and district budget. The way things currently work, the budget happens first, and the plan follows. This is why these plans often feel like afterthoughts and why so many of the writers above feel so negative about them. The Governor is proposing that the new required plan be connected to the budget. This is the right step, but the devil will be in the details. The organization I lead, Pivot Learning Partners, has been working with districts to solve this problem and one detail we’ve discovered to be key is the planning and budget development timeline. In order for the plan to drive the budget, the plan has to come first, and planners have to start developing budget scenarios before they know how much money they will get from the state. Revising this planning timeline is something districts can do and we’ve helped several do it. But the State Board should consider how it can support and encourage this change, which is essential. The second idea that matters is that plans and budgets must both be developed around goals, not around funding sources. This is something the State Board’s template can require. There is more, of course. But the real point here is that the Governor’s proposal shows promise, as Arun and John Affeldt note, but there is much work still to be done.

    • el replied

      on February 7, 2013 at 10:20 pm

      Your point about the timelines is well taken. Having been involved in both processes, I am curious to learn more about the steps you have taken to revise the timelines so a plan comes before budget, and how you created communication between the SSC and the business manager/budget process.

  13. el said

    on February 11, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    It looks like – despite earlier assurances – we’re going to have a fight to maintain the CTE programs, especially in the more rural counties. If I understand correctly, we’re looking at losing half the funding? There’s a strong local consensus that those programs are valuable and we want to keep them at their current levels, but they have to be funded from somewhere, and it’s not clear what can be cut to do that.

  14. John Fensterwald said

    on February 11, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    el: Could you explain why you would lose half the money on CTE? Are you assuming that you have few at-risk students, so that you would lose half of the money that had been going to categoricals like Partnership Academies?

    • el replied

      on February 11, 2013 at 5:23 pm

      Heh! Probably not! I’m not the school finance guru.

      But I’m told that the proposed CTE augmentation is about $215 per 9-12 student, and I’m told that’s about half of what our County Office of Education is getting for that service now. (That the money is moving from the COE to the districts is not a big deal; districts in my county will probably continue to choose to have some programs through the county and some at the high schools, as it is now.)

      The difference we face locally may be related to historical changes and it may be that for the urban counties this ends up being an increase; I am not fully versed in that.

      Now that I’ve written this, I’m left wondering if rates of CTE enrollment are similar across rural and urban districts.

  15. Maya Cooper said

    on February 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    As someone who has spent several years on the front lines advocating for children in foster care, I am aware of the unique educational challenges facing children in foster care. Overcoming these unique educational challenges requires specialized educational supports and services.

    I commend the Governor for recognizing that students in foster care have unique educational needs that require school districts to provide unique educational services. The trailer bill language does not, however, do nearly enough to ensure districts will provide students in foster care the services and supports they need.

    The current trailer bill language (SEC. 117. Section 42238.02, added to the Education Code) states, “. . . (2) School districts and charter schools that receive supplemental or concentration grants . . . shall use those funds for any locally determined educational purpose so long as it substantially benefits the unduplicated pupils that generated those funds as provided for in a school district’s or charter school’s local control and accountability plan” (emphasis added). The trailer bill does not define “substantially benefits.” Nor does it provide county offices of education much guidance on how to evaluate the adequacy of a school district’s local control and accountability plan.

    While this is problematic for English Learners and low-income students, at least districts are required to track, and are subsequently held accountable, for the academic progress of these subgroups. However, this is not the case for students in foster care. There is nothing in the Education Code or within the current trailer bill language that requires districts to track the educational outcomes of students in foster care. Because school districts are not required to track the educational outcomes of this subgroup, there will be no way of knowing whether the district’s plan for serving these students actually improved their educational outcomes. Since districts will not be held accountable for the academic performance of foster children, few are likely to provide students in foster care the specialized educational supports they need.

    Some interpret provisions of the current trailer bill language to require parents, administrators or community groups the opportunity to provide input on local control and accountability plans. This is, in theory, a mechanism for allowing the local community to hold districts accountable for serving these historically educationally underserved populations of students. Unfortunately, children in foster care rarely have parents, administrators or community groups advocating on their behalf at local school board meetings. All the more reason to include strong accountability language in the Education Code with respect students in foster care.

    Maya Cooper, Policy Manager
    National Center for Youth Law, Foster Youth Education Initiative

  16. navigio said

    on May 24, 2013 at 11:14 am

    In our school site council meeting the other day a parent asked why we should have an SSC next year. If LCFF passes, EIA funding will go away (that’s often more than half the money that the SSC oversees). In addition, common core is being introduced, and we are already hearing warnings that this has impacted CST and ongoing local assessment results in a negative, but undetermined way. This means the data upon which ‘monitoring’ of school progress or programs will be largely undefined. In fact, the concern is that by the time we can get anything meaningful out of the standards change, another change will be introduced that once again presents the same barrier.

    Obviously we will still have some (albeit reduced) title 1 funds, and for data, perhaps next year would be useful as a benchmark for the next round of reform, as well as a way to become more familiar with the new standards. Unfortunately that seems to imply that the vast majority of what this group does is not for improvement, but for show.

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