Proposed spending regs give districts leeway to choose how to serve high-needs students

Much anticipated draft regulations that the State Board of Education will discuss next week would give school districts lots of latitude –  too much so, say some advocates for disadvantaged students – to deal with a contentious issue: how to account for the extra money that districts will receive for low-income kids, English learners and foster children.

The proposed regulations (see pages 1-4), posted in the agenda for the Nov. 6-7 State Board meeting, interpret a critical section in the law establishing the Local Control Funding Formula. Broad in intent and short in length, it requires school districts, county offices of education and charter schools “to increase or improve services” for high-needs students “in proportion to the increase in funds apportioned on the basis of the number and concentration” of those students.  The board must adopt the regulations at its next meeting in January to meet a deadline imposed by the funding law.

While providing substantial funding for low-income children and English learners in the Local Control Funding Formula that he pushed through the Legislature, Gov. Jerry Brown has made it clear that the state should not micromanage how districts choose to spend money on those students.

While providing substantial funding for low-income children and English learners in the Local Control Funding Formula that he pushed through the Legislature, Gov. Jerry Brown has made it clear that the state should not micromanage how districts choose to spend money on those students.

The new funding system provides additional dollars for low-income children and English learners: 20 percent more funding per targeted student plus additional dollars when a district has large concentrations of those students. Advocacy organizations for low-income students had argued that the extra dollars should be spent on programs for those students at the schools they attend. But they lost that fight. At Gov. Jerry Brown’s insistence, the money for high-needs students will be distributed to districts, not to school sites. And the law did not explicitly require that all of the additional money be spent exclusively on those students. Instead, the law requires that services or programs be increased proportionally to the increase in funding – an important distinction that gives districts more flexibility to decide how the money will be spent – which was also Brown’s intent.

Charged with writing regulations detailing what proportionality means, the State Board turned to WestEd, a San Francisco-based research agency, to make recommendations after soliciting a range of opinions. WestEd held regional meetings and created a stakeholders group that included representatives of advocacy organizations and groups representing school boards, teachers, administrators and county offices of education.

A choice of three options

The proposed regulations say that districts would have three ways to satisfy the requirement of providing increased services or programs. They can spend more, provide more or achieve more in proportion to the extra money they get:

  • Spending more: That’s the easiest to quantify and verify. A district would determine the proportion of the increase in annual revenue under the new formula that is attributable to high-needs students. At full implementation of the funding formula – in eight years if projections of revenue hold – the district would have to spend at least that much, or more, on high-needs students.
  • Providing more: The draft proposal cites possible ways that districts could provide more services in proportion to the increase in funding for targeted students. They could add learning time through summer or after-school programs; add intervention programs or instructional aides, or reduce class sizes for these students; offer more teacher training focused on these students; or provide extra materials or technology to meet their needs.
  • Achieving more: Districts would have to document improved outcomes of targeted students in proportion to the increase in funding. The draft doesn’t state it, but the result presumably would begin to close the achievement gap between high-needs and non-high-needs students.

Heads of two nonprofits advocating for low-income students and English learners criticized the draft, particularly the achieve-more option, which they said skirts the intent of the spending formula.

“We’re very disappointed with the regulatory proposal in its current form. The State Board is moving to change by regulatory fiat the promise that equity will somehow result from total district flexibility,” said John Affeldt, managing attorney for Public Advocates.

Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Education Trust-West, called WestEd’s proposal “incoherent” and said that districts could provide small increases in some services that have no relation to the actual amount of money that districts receive for high-needs students. And he said that districts could strive for increases in readily attainable goals for student achievement, yet high-needs students could continue to be underserved. The options for providing and achieving more have to be tied directly to spending; otherwise, budgeting won’t be transparent, he said.

The draft regulations don’t specify how to quantify what “proportional increase” means for the “providing more” and “achieving more” options – no doubt by intent. Annual increases attributable to high-needs students could be a few percentage points. Brown and State Board members have indicated they don’t intend to micromanage districts’ plans and goals.

Districts, charter schools and county offices would use the regulations as a basis for creating their Local Control and Accountability Plan, or LCAP, a three-year plan, updated annually, that they must adopt by the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.

The draft regulations pertain to spending money. The LCAP is about setting goals and actions to improve student performance. Because the two are inextricably linked, the proposal, which the State Board will discuss, includes a document outlining the guiding principles and key elements (see pages 5-9) that would instruct a district in writing its LCAP. The State Board must approve an actual template that districts would use no later than March 31, 2014.

Sherry Griffith, director of Government Relations for the Association of California School Administrators, praised the discretion that the three options will give districts. “The options reflect that fact that it’s not always about spending another dollar. Actions may involve instructional strategies, reorganizing classrooms or eliminating what hasn’t proven effective. We think the three are more reflective of a more holistic approach” to school and student improvement.

Griffith said that districts would want to integrate all three options in writing an LCAP and that simply setting a goal of achievement alone would not be enough to meet the requirements. That would appear to be the case, based on the principles and guidelines to the LCAP that WestEd released. Districts would be required to justify the services and programs they are proposing for all students and subgroups of students getting extra money, explain why they would be effective and cite the expenses involved. They would be required to explain how the budget for the Local Control Funding Formula is used “to support student performance and address needs of special populations. This should be simple yet complete.”

The guidelines for the LCAP would not require listing goals and  additional services by schools – another criticism of Affeldt and Ramanathan, since quality and needs of schools vary significantly in large districts. Instead, the guidelines simply ask whether the needs of students at specific schools have been identified and if goals for specific schools have been included.

Griffith said it comes down to “How much are we afraid of local control?” Trust will be built, she said, “if the LCAP process is transparent  and stakeholders feel empowered.”

But Affeldt and Ramanathan said that regulations must be tightened for the public to trust that money intended for high-needs students will be spent on them. Guidelines and principles are not sufficient to ensure equity.

The debate over the next two weeks will determine how the State Board strikes a balance between those perspectives.

John Fensterwald covers state education policy. Contact him and follow him on Twitter @jfenster.






Filed under: Local Control Funding Formula, Policy & Finance, State Board, State Education Policy

Tags: , , , , ,


Leave a Comment

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

Comment Policy

EdSource encourages a robust debate on education issues and welcomes comments from our readers.

  • 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 offensive comments.
  • EdSource encourages commenters to use their real names. Commenters who do decide to use a pseudonym should use it consistently.
  • Please limit comments to 250 words to prevent comment clutter; if you intend to say more please link out to a place that contains your full comment.
  • Comments with more than one link automatically enter moderation. Comments from new commenters are automatically moderated.
  • Repeated violation of this comment policy will lead to a warning. Continued violations will lead to a ban.

10 Responses to “Proposed spending regs give districts leeway to choose how to serve high-needs students”

EdSource does not track who "likes or dislikes" a comment. We only track the number of likes and dislikes.

  1. elainepark on Oct 29, 2013 at 8:04 am10/29/2013 8:04 am

    • 000

    Griffith said it comes down to “How much are we afraid of local control?” …as a parent of a Special Education child I’m very afraid. Without the federal IDEA law many districts would be happy to sweep Special Ed students under the rug. And why doesn’t LCFF talk about special education at all? Or have I missed something?

  2. el on Oct 28, 2013 at 1:04 pm10/28/2013 1:04 pm

    • 000

    The easiest way to meet this criterion:

    The draft doesn’t state it, but the result presumably would begin to close the achievement gap between high-needs and non-high-needs students.

    is to get your non-high-needs students to lower their scores on exams.

    The suggestion that raising the achievement of high needs kids is meaningless unless the gap is closing is ridiculous. It’s not a zero-sum game.


    • navigio on Oct 29, 2013 at 11:51 am10/29/2013 11:51 am

      • 000

      I’ve always found it ironic that the API calculation gives schools more incentive to focus on failing students than on succeeding ones. On one level this is clearly the way it should be (we want all kids to succeed, not just the ones who already are). However, I cannot get around the fact that this, by design, will force schools to systematically ignore students who are already succeeding (ive heard it stated outright when prioritizing resources), especially when the resources are zero-sum. This is one of the problems inherent in setting arbitrary performance goals and directing scarce resources to those areas most in need rather than asking what it is every child needs to grow academically and trying to provide that. sigh.

  3. Paul Muench on Oct 28, 2013 at 12:53 pm10/28/2013 12:53 pm

    • 000

    It would be helpful to know what types of schools are anticipated to use each method. Given the input WestEd already received I assume these recommendations are not just theoretical. My first guess is that the achieve more goal is targeted at schools where students are already high achievers, but still meet the criteria for the extra funding. Charters schools seem to be the most well known for this situation.

  4. el on Oct 28, 2013 at 12:46 pm10/28/2013 12:46 pm

    • 000

    All of these guidelines make two assumptions that I think are likely false in some cases:

    1. That districts are not already spending money targeted to high needs students in previous years’ budgets.
    2. That districts are getting extra money because of LCFF.

    From the numbers I’ve seen, it’s possible to be receiving LCFF money for special needs kids AND ALSO to be in Hold-Harmless status based on what is happening with other categoricals.

    The emphasis on

    “to increase or improve services” for high-needs students “in proportion to the increase in funds apportioned on the basis of the number and concentration”

    completely ignores the possibility, or even the likelihood, that high needs students were already getting additional services. In many cases, it may be that the base program was robbed over the years to provide those services. Asking that it be robbed even further is I think not what is intended.

    The problem here is that conversation assumes there is “extra” money, that the base programs are adequately funded, and that schools are getting significantly more. I think for many districts this is not the reality, certainly not for 2013-14, even in districts that are above the median in low income kids.


    • Manuel on Oct 29, 2013 at 10:30 am10/29/2013 10:30 am

      • 000

      el, you have put it very clearly: neither the states nor the feds have been paying the full cost for high-need services needed, notably special ed. And, yes, a couple of years ago, those programs were called “encroaching programs” in LAUSD documents. That’s another nice way of saying “robbing.”

      Now comes LCFF and the argument will be made that part of the apportionment given in 2013-14 is not “base” but “supplemental” and even “concentration,” probably on the premise that EIA/EDY funds are folded into the apportionment, even if “hold harmless.” But how are these funds to be increased when the total is likely to be still the same as last year?

      I agree, asking that the base program be robbed further is not the intention. But it is certainly within the realm of possibilities.

      • navigio on Oct 29, 2013 at 11:37 am10/29/2013 11:37 am

        • 000

        I think it is the intention. The current funding is barely more than existing, and nowhere near enough to cover the current encroachment. The feds are not going to increase special ed funding just because CA passed LCFF. And CA even seems to be going in the opposite direction. In our district, the encroachment has been increasing every year for the past half dozen years. In the last budget (not this one), 11% of unrestricted gen funds were ‘encroached’ away. I dont see any way for this to be changed at this point. In fact, I would even not be surprised to see people try to justify part of the encroachment if it is directed toward unduplicated students who also happen to be in special ed.

        Manuel’s point is a good one: without proper budget documents we can only surmise anyway. I think this year is intended as a ‘throw-away’ year. That was built into the timeline.

      • el on Oct 29, 2013 at 1:32 pm10/29/2013 1:32 pm

        • 000

        I want to emphasize that I think cuts to the base program hurt our special needs kids as much or more than they do our “ordinary” kids. Large class sizes, lack of libraries, inadequate facilities — these issues hurt every kid, and we are not funded adequately to cover them yet.

    • Colleen on Dec 20, 2013 at 1:18 pm12/20/2013 1:18 pm

      • 000

      I totally agree with your comment of losing the base program and what is left is supplying some services for high need students. For 5 years of drastic budget cuts, too many districts in this state are in funding distress. With basic services limited or eliminated such as; lost of school days, no school library or computer lab staff and limited health aide hours that school districts are still unable to fund. I’m not even mentioning large class sizes.

      Doesn’t inadequate base funding hurt all students including high need students? It will take 13 years for school districts that do not qualify for supplemental funding under LCFF to get back to their 2006-07 funding. Where we were approx. 46th in the nation for per student funding. No one should be happy about this scenario.

  5. navigio on Oct 28, 2013 at 9:59 am10/28/2013 9:59 am

    • 000

    The guidelines read to like those that would be used to create the site level SPSA or associated LEA plan. Why will this achieve anything different?

Template last modified: