Gov. Jerry Brown’s belief in the principle of local decision-making will be put to the test with the state’s new school finance system known as the Local Control Funding Formula.
But at a dozen forums in low-income neighborhoods across the state, parents said that while they’re enthusiastic about the new funding formula, they “had little trust in current processes aimed at involving them in decision making,” according to feedback collected by The California Endowment,* which hosted the forums.
“Many (parents) who served on school site councils and other advisory committees felt they were expected to serve as a rubber stamp rather than as true partners,” the Endowment wrote in a report summarizing comments received on its School Success Express bus tour, held at 12 cities throughout California. The report will be shared with the State Board of Education, which is finalizing guidelines for districts on the funding law.
The new system gives school districts more control over spending decisions and requires them to include parents and other community members in deciding how to prioritize spending. Schools that serve high numbers of high-risk students – those who are low income, are learning to speak English or are in foster care – will receive extra money.
Parents at the forums said school districts aren’t doing a good job of communicating about the law, said the report, which includes a set of recommendations to help ensure the community is informed and involved in the budgeting process.
About 1,600 people attended the forums, which were held in English and Spanish, with translation into Hmong, Vietnamese and Somali. The majority of comments about the process focused on parent involvement followed by school climate, the report said. Students also asked for a significant role in the decision-making process.
“We are the next generation. We need to have a great impact on how the money is spent. We go to the school, we know the problems inside the school. So put an emphasis on student involvement because it affects us,” Fresno high school student Blain Haskin is quoted as saying in the report.
Among its recommendations, the report said the state should provide school districts with specific guidance on how to meaningfully include parents in the process and include that parent involvement in accountability plans districts must develop. It also calls on schools to conduct school climate assessments that include the number of support staff available to help students, such as nurses and counselors, and to provide training to help parents and students understand how to read school budgets.
“What ways will the district use to inform and explain what LCFF means? Break it down for the community,” said Jocelyn Vargas at the Coachella meeting. “This is the first step to transparency.”
*The California Endowment provides financial support for EdSource but has no input into editorial decisions.