Gov. Jerry Brown’s new school funding system is based on the idea that school districts, not Sacramento, should be given control over spending and then held accountable for students’ results. But with time running out to work on details of the Local Control Funding Formula, negotiators from the Assembly, Senate and the governor’s office have yet to agree on what, when and how districts should be judged.

All agree that districts should be measured by more than just test scores, but they can’t yet decide on which measurements: graduation rates, career and college readiness measures, suspension rates, Advanced Placement course enrollment in high school, school climate, access to a rigorous curriculum? The Brown administration is open to a range of non-test-score-based criteria, said Rick Simpson, deputy chief of staff to Assembly Speaker John Pérez, D-Los Angeles.

The transition from California Standards Tests to new Common Core assessments is complicating any effort to hold districts accountable for growth in test scores. Some CSTs will no longer be given, and new tests for high school math and science have yet to be written. The new Common Core tests in English language arts and science for grades 3 through 8 and grade 11 will be first given in the spring of 2015. It will take at least two or three years of data to make any credible comparisons involving growth in scores.

The Academic Performance Index, the state’s accountability measure, is also changing. Starting in 2016, 40 percent of a high school’s API score will comprise factors other than test scores. The State Board is just beginning to consider what those measures might be. It could be confusing for districts if the new API components and the LCFF accountability measures aren’t in sync. And when Congress eventually reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, aka No Child Left Behind, there will be another set of federal requirements.

Simpson said that negotiators are aware of the “danger of multiple layers” of accountability and agree they should be coordinated.

But the biggest area of disagreement appears to be over what sanctions should be imposed when districts miss whatever accountability targets Brown and legislative leaders eventually agree on. Advocates for disadvantaged students criticized Brown’s initial LCFF proposal in January for giving districts too much latitude to determine how extra dollars for low-income students and English learners would be spent and for not imposing enough consequences when districts violate their commitments or squander the money without improving student achievement. Now, some superintendents say Brown has gone from pillar to post in changing the LCFF in the May budget revision and in being too quick to impose outside intervention when API targets are missed.

Each year, districts would do a Local Control and Accountability Plan, setting out academic goals for high-needs students and aligning the goals with the extra money they receive from the LCFF. The plan would have to state how the district would improve performance in a bunch of areas, including graduation, dropout, attendance, expulsion and suspension rates, and completion of career technical education courses and courses need for admission to UC and CSU. Parents would have to be consulted in the creation of the plan – a goal pushed by groups like San Francisco-based Public Advocates.

The county superintendent would review each district’s plan and could make recommendations. But if the district missed API targets for two out of three years for any of the high-needs subgroups of students, the county superintendent would have the authority to withhold approval of an accountability plan until the district complied with the suggested changes. The county superintendent could also call in an academic expert or the academic counterpart to the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, which until now has overseen districts in financial, not academic, trouble. To superintendents, these interventions are sounding like a state version of the No Child Left Behind law, with too many hoops to jump through and traps to fall into.

Simpson said that the focus should be on providing advice and expertise, “setting out a structure centered on helping districts be successful,” instead of imposing sanctions. His Senate counterpart, Susanna Cooper, education adviser to Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said that because of “blowback” from districts, the Brown administration “has moved off its initial proposal about using API scores alone as the trigger” for oversight that the districts had not sought.

Cooper, Simpson and others familiar with the negotiations say the issues are complex and the options are many. If legislative leaders and Brown can agree on principles of accountability, they may put off negotiating the details until summer or next year.

 


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  1. Mary Johnson, Parent-U-Turn 3 years ago3 years ago

    As a parent advocate for educational equity, I have fought for more than two decades to make sure that all California children receive a quality education and that all California parents have a meaningful say in shaping this education. Today, I see signs of progress on the first count, due to new approaches to funding California public schools. But on the second count, inclusion, I am shocked that some parents will not be fully … Read More

    As a parent advocate for educational equity, I have fought for more than two decades to make sure that all California children receive a quality education and that all California parents have a meaningful say in shaping this education. Today, I see signs of progress on the first count, due to new approaches to funding California public schools. But on the second count, inclusion, I am shocked that some parents will not be fully included in this new reform. This reversal in course on parental involvement worries me because I know that energized parents are the key to all educational improvement.
    After several years of having our children’s education harmed by painful budget cuts, parents like me are pleased to see new funds flowing into our local public schools. I am particularly pleased that Governor Brown and his allies decided this year to direct additional funds to schools with the greatest needs. Under the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), districts serving (1) the highest proportion of English Learners, (2) low-income students, and (3) foster youth will receive a substantial boost (up to 35%) to their base funding from the state.
    This is my concern. While LCFF calls for districts to consult with parents on how these additional funds will be spent, which is laudable in principle, I am very concerned that the state’s plans for implementing this principle do not fully include all groups of parents, and thus key stakeholders that have traditionally had a seat at the education planning will not be part of the process.
    According to LCFF, Districts are supposed to consult with parents about how these new funds will be spent The big question, however, is who will district representatives consult with? The answer is in the law itself: At the district level, one group only will be consulted: the District English Language Advisory Council (DELAC); and at the school site level, only the School Site Council (a general advisory group) will be consulted. As unbelievable as that may sound, no other parent groups need be consulted. This expressly disenfranchises countless thousands of parents that have historically been a routine part of this process. This is wrong, and a serious reversal of well-established public policy. Simply put, in one fell swoop, decades-long, hard-fought inclusion has been replaced with old-style exclusion. ALL parent stakeholder groups need to have their voices heard. In my own community, African American parents and many Latinos are English speakers. However, there is nothing in the law that requires districts to hear from them! In the Los Angeles Unified School District, where I live, broad-based community inclusion has been standard practice for many, many years. Parents representing all manner of needs, ethnicities, languages, backgrounds, neighborhoods, etc. have routinely participated in the planning, formation and implementation of programs and curriculum, with great benefits to the children and their families. Under LCCF, this has come to a screeching halt.
    LCFF needs to promote moving forward, not backsliding, and reinstate/include all significant stakeholders in the planning process. The District Advisory Council needs to be reinstated; a Foster Care Advisory Council needs to be added; a Special Education Advisory Council has to be part of the process; and other advisories must also be included as fit unique individual district and school site needs.
    It is troubling to me that at a time when funds are increased, parent involvement is decreased. Why? A district trying to fulfill the broad principles behind the law wouldn’t seek to include parents beyond the D-ELAC.
    Not only is the policy public policy reversal under LCCF a real shame in human terms, it is also a gigantic slap in the face to those of us who have labored tirelessly for decades to bring everyone into the fold and improve education for all, regardless of color, creed or anything else.
    LCCF reverses well over 50 years of state and federal public policy and, if not corrected, will have serious negative impacts on student achievement as well as community commitment and relations.
    All stakeholders need to be back at the table.
    The big question that still looms in the balance will the LCFF and Local Schools District share the decision-making with parents and community.

  2. Cynthia Eagleton 3 years ago3 years ago

    @ Eric... I'm curious about that letter... can I find it online? I'll look! This whole issue of accountability is one I've been reflecting on... but from that super far back perspective. I wrote about it here: http://adulteducationmatters.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-mirror-of-accountability.html I know in "real life" that it is and must be about specifics. I was pulling all the way back to try to understand what accountability really is... Who are we accountable to? For what? And why? When I realized that accountability is … Read More

    @ Eric… I’m curious about that letter… can I find it online? I’ll look!

    This whole issue of accountability is one I’ve been reflecting on… but from that super far back perspective.

    I wrote about it here: http://adulteducationmatters.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-mirror-of-accountability.html

    I know in “real life” that it is and must be about specifics.

    I was pulling all the way back to try to understand what accountability really is…

    Who are we accountable to?

    For what?

    And why?

    When I realized that accountability is connected to trust…

    and I realized the deep level distrust in our culture… especially of “the government” and “schools,” that illuminated a lot to me.

    I sometimes ponder how anti-intellectual US culture is.

    I think many are quick to judge that…

    but quick judgement never really illuminates anything.

    Intellectuals have done great things – like bring us the constitution.

    They’ve also justified great wrongs – with intellectual arguments.

    Thomas Jefferson did both, it seems to me… as democracy loving, slave-owning intellectual.

    Lately, I’ve been trying to understand where the deep mistrust in our culture comes from.

    What are the wounds?

    What caused them?

    When we can see them clearly and understand what caused them…

    we’ll be in a better position to repair the loss of trust.

    Thanks again for mentioning that letter. I’ll look for it.

  3. Paul Muench 3 years ago3 years ago

    It would be nice to skew any accountability efforts to the local level, at least as a start. I’d like to see more transparency of district finances. I think the state can play a role in auditing the information districts report to the public. Then let local politics sort out if funding meets priorities.

  4. Eric Premack 3 years ago3 years ago

    Excellent summary John. The policy discussion, however, is profoundly disappointing—especially if based on narrow testing data, unstable graduation rate data, “supplement-not-supplant” and other bookkeeping and budgeting red tape. If we want to be honest, we may as well switch the terminology from “Local Control Funding Formula” to “State Control Funding Formula” if all we’re doing is switching from one state-controlled, micro-managing system to another with only marginal local control. If 40+ years of federal laws on written … Read More

    Excellent summary John.

    The policy discussion, however, is profoundly disappointing—especially if based on narrow testing data, unstable graduation rate data, “supplement-not-supplant” and other bookkeeping and budgeting red tape.

    If we want to be honest, we may as well switch the terminology from “Local Control Funding Formula” to “State Control Funding Formula” if all we’re doing is switching from one state-controlled, micro-managing system to another with only marginal local control.

    If 40+ years of federal laws on written plans (a.k.a., “Local Education Agency Plans” and the like) and “supplement not supplant” accounting have taught us anything, it is that these bureaucratic layers accomplish little other than to feed central office bloat. This is a lesson the very smart folks at Public Advocates, et. al., need to learn—and soon.

    If we want answers to the accountability conundrum we need to think about what we mean when we say “accountable,” and to whom. Paper plans and accounting rules reflect a definition of accountability that equates paper with accountability—and accountability toward paper-pushers and bean-counters rather than parents, students, and community stakeholders.

    Instead, we need to think of accountability based on preparing students to succeed in their lives, based on their individualized needs—and accountability to parents, students, and community stakeholders. If we’re serious this, we’d be looking at a lot more than just test scores and graduation rates.

    If we’re serious about accountability to parents and students, we’d be giving them real choices and options, including expanding instructional options (far beyond “Common Core” and archaic notions of geographic monopolies in the form of school districts). We’d also give them more options to exit and/or close dysfunctional schools and “vote with their feet” to go to new ones. A per-student funding system like the one the Governor originally proposed could greatly facilitate this.

    Governor Brown outlined a promising alternative approach in his veto message to Senate Bill 547 in 2011. This at-once hilarious and insightful letter reflected Brown at his best. It called for establishing locally convened panels to visit schools to take a real look at the quality of instruction and support for students. Such an approach would be a fitting accompaniment to a genuine “Local” Control Funding Formula.

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