Opinion > Commentary

Goodbye Big Brother, hello local control … maybe


John Affeldt

John Affeldt

California’s new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) signifies a welcome shift from the “no excuses” education “reform” crowd and their D.C. dominance. Contrary to Washingtonian rhetoric about addressing poverty by getting tough on bad teachers and closing bad schools, California proposes to address poverty by, well, addressing poverty.

Indeed, the LCFF reform shifts the conversation back to a focus on the extra resources and support that low-income students and English Learners need to succeed. And rather than shutting down low-performing schools first and asking questions later, LCFF proposes to send schools that have high concentrations of low-income students even more resources.

LCFF also pushes much more decision-making to the local level, rather than having policymakers decide how best to serve students. And when it comes to holding districts accountable for improving student achievement, LCFF signals a significant shift away from defining achievement solely along the lines of a standardized test score.

Instead, the new law calls for a new system based on a “holistic, multidimensional assessment” of districts’ and schools’ performance. It includes more than a dozen academic and school climate measures, including rates of graduation, student suspension and absenteeism, English learner reclassification rates, Advanced Placement course exam scores and percentages of students qualifying for admission to the University of California and California State University.

As Rick Simpson, deputy Chief of Staff to Assembly Speaker John Pérez and a longtime key education policy staffer, told EdSource Today, “We are unconvinced that market-based approaches, sanctions and threats are the way to change systems.”

Whether this new vision of local control will actually be realized — and whether it will be realized in a way that works to improve student outcomes — remain huge questions. The premise of LCFF is that more resources should flow to the neediest students, and that decisions on how to use those funds are best made by people most familiar with those students’ circumstances. In fact, the governor in his January State of the State address argued that local control should extend beyond the school board and district office — and even beyond the principal — down into the classroom where the individual teacher, who is most familiar with his or her students, works.

To make that vision happen, and include the students and their parents in the decision-making, will require a serious reordering and rejuvenation of what local control and community engagement mean. Districts must provide clear, transparent, simple-to-understand and standardized explanations of how much LCFF spending is occurring at each school and how it is proposed to be used, particularly with high-needs students. Parents, students, interested community members and teachers must have a role in determining how to best spend those funds at the school site as well as across the district. And before those structural mechanisms can be implemented, key rules need to be written that make clear that LCFF funding generated by low-income students, English learners and foster youth must actually be spent on those students.

Unfortunately, the state Legislature and the Administration spent so much time these past two years arm-wrestling over whether and how LCFF would be considered (would it be through policy committees or how it ended up, in the budget) that when a deal finally became clear, there was no time to negotiate many of the most important provisions. So now the State Board of Education has been called on to do the heavy lifting. (While a convenient political solution in the short run, that may come back to haunt Brown and the Democrats if future State Boards and governors water down LCFF and its focus on high-needs students.)

Over the next eight months, and again in October 2015, the Board faces a number of key decisions that will shape the effectiveness of LCFF local control and accountability:

  • What does it mean to spend LCFF funds to increase or improve services proportionally on high-needs students?
  • What will be permissible school-wide and district-wide uses of LCFF funds generated by high-needs students when not all the students in the school or district are high-need?
  • How clear do districts’ Local Control and Accountability Plans need to be to make sure that expenditures aligned with specific activities are spelled out at the school level for parents, teachers and the school community?
  • What kind of notice, engagement and public hearings must districts undertake to satisfy LCFF requirements?
  • And eventually, by October 2015, what are the “holistic, multi-dimensional” evaluation rubrics that determine when districts are to receive technical assistance or intervention or even be placed in trusteeship?

The State Board has its work cut out for it if it is to complete this latest swing away from top-heavy, market-based reforms that fail to recognize the need for systemic anti-poverty investments and toward a new system that both invests in the neediest students and bases educational decisions on the best information at the most local level possible. Community advocates, the education community, the Legislature and—you can be sure — Washington, will be watching.

•••

John Affeldt is Managing Attorney at Public Advocates Inc., a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization that challenges the systemic causes of poverty and racial discrimination, and  is a leading voice on educational equity issues. He has been recognized by California Lawyer Magazine as a California Attorney of the Year.

Filed under: Commentary, Local Control Funding Formula

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8 Responses to “Goodbye Big Brother, hello local control … maybe”

  1. Educator said

    on July 10, 2013 at 11:16 am

    Excellent thoughts. I too am confused what is going to happen in my district. I’m not sure any of us knows. The devil is in the details, but we don’t have details yet! Still, it’s a good start and I’m glad we’re going to have these types of discussions. I just wonder if we’re all ready for it or not. Hopefully we’ll see many interesting ideas across districts in CA. Class size reduction? Extra time for students? More instructional days? More compensation? More compensation for those who teach at high poverty schools? What ideas will we see? What ideas do we have?

    • navigio replied

      on July 10, 2013 at 2:02 pm

      In my district it looks like the extra funding will be used to plug existing budget shortfalls that have finally caught up to us after years of over-extending ourselves (trying to maintain things we couldn’t afford because of reduced funding over the past handful of years). So we will not fire the last handful of school librarians like we were planning on (those are at the high school level) with our primary schools having lost their funded libraries years ago). We won’t raise class sizes like we were planning on. Ironically, we are likely to lose our language development resource teachers since they were mostly funded by EIA, which now goes away. The argument there being that since the student groups those teachers were assigned to have not been increasing their performance fast enough they were obviously a waste of money. Note that districts were required to make a lot of decisions about next years resource funding for the June 30 budget deadline. A lot of these things should be fairly clearly laid out in those budget documents already.

  2. Manuel said

    on July 10, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Thank you for putting these questions into an easy-to-read article.

    I agree with Educator: the devil will be in the details, specially since the new EdCode set Title I, Part A, eligibility as the “floor” for decisions.

    Given that the Feds do not provide with an actual floor (spending within a district is left to the district’s discretion as stated in this non-regulatory guidance), there is a possibility that students in schools deemed not to be poor enough will get no funds. (That is currently happening at LAUSD’s schools that have a 49.99%-or-less poverty index.) Needless to say, this is very distressing to parents in those schools.

    • Manuel replied

      on July 10, 2013 at 12:24 pm

      Oops, I forgot to include the reference to the EdCode section:

      42238.07. (a) On or before January 31, 2014, the state board shall adopt regulations that govern the expenditure of funds apportioned on the basis of the number and concentration of unduplicated pupils pursuant to Sections 2574, 2575, 42238.02, and 42238.03. The regulations shall include, but are not limited to, provisions that do all of the following:
      (1) Require a school district, county office of education, or charter school to increase or improve services for unduplicated pupils in proportion to the increase in funds apportioned on the basis of the number and concentration of unduplicated pupils in the school district, county office of education, or charter school.
      (2) Authorize a school district, county office of education, or charter school to use funds apportioned on the basis of the number of unduplicated pupils for schoolwide purposes, or, for school districts, districtwide purposes, for county offices of education, countywide purposes, or for charter schools, charterwide purposes, in a manner that is no more restrictive than the restrictions provided for in Title I of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (20 U.S.C. Sec. 6301, et seq.).
      (b) The state board may adopt emergency regulations for purposes of this section.

      IANAL, but this is something to be concerned about given LAUSD’s recent behavior.

  3. Richard Moore (@infosherpa) said

    on July 10, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    You have to love the language they invent to push the program:

    >>> holistic, multidimensional assessment

    Other states have RULES which say things like: 500 students, one school librarian. Those states get better reading results.

    We have WASC, which prides itself on “qualitative” standards rather than “quantitative.” Except when reviewing UC schools, when they admit, “UC wouldn’t let us get away with qualitative standards.” (Don Halverson)

    The Gates Foundation, lest we forget, paid to develop the (Common Core) standards, paid to evaluate the standards, and is underwriting Pearson’s program to create online courses and resources for the standards, which will be sold by Pearson, for a profit, to schools across the nation. — Diane Ravitch

  4. Eric Premack said

    on July 10, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    To state that the “State Board has its work cut out for it” may be the understatement of the century.

    If the State Board actually follows the law here and drafts regulations that allow for “districtwide” expenditures in a fashion that is no more restrictive than current federal law in Title I of ESEA governing “schoolwide” programs, the board will find it impossible to ensure that the extra funds for poor and English learner students will be spent for their benefit.

    The federal laws on schoolwide programs are extremely flexible. They essentially apply only a “supplement not supplant” standard and allow the school to spend the funds to benefit all children in a school, without regard to need.

    By extending this schoolwide concept to the districtwide level, the law would appear to eviscerate any requirement to spend the funds to benefit the kids who generated them and seems to effectively tie the State Board’s hands.

    • Chris Stampolis replied

      on August 30, 2013 at 12:48 pm

      Eric’s comment that the new funding formula may “eviscerate any requirement to spend the funds to benefit the kids who generated them” should be of serious concern for advocates who want to close the achievement gap.

      Districts with enough students of poverty to trigger the new district-wide financial supplements likely will focus those funds on needy kids. However, students of need who live in mixed-economic districts now will have to compete for funds with students of means. And English-speaking parents of means almost always are better organized and more prepared to advocate with school boards than non-English-speaking parents of poverty who are not registered to vote. Political realities almost always will tip the scales at school board meetings towards the affluent – especially if AB484 passes and there are few incentives for local districts to track achievement gaps.

      - Chris Stampolis
      Governing Board Member, Santa Clara Unified School District
      Member, Democratic National Committee
      408-771-6858 / 408-390-4748
      stampolis@aol.com

  5. Public School Parent who Cares! said

    on July 11, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    It is important to invest in children, who are our future. California sadly under-invests in education. That said, it’s good to invest in the lowest performers, because we want to keep them off the street and out of jail. But what about the kids who will go on to great colleges and start companies and be the leaders of the 21st century??? I think we are underinvesting in these children. And when Calif. becomes a terrible place to live and work in 25 – 40 years, we will have only ourselves to blame. The bright students will get out of Calif and not return if 95% of our students are receiving a low quality public education.

    Let’s stop spending money on road repairs and start spending money on the children who live in this state–both at the bottom and the top of the achievement scale.

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