The Legislature will vote today on a bill establishing Gov. Brown’s historic school funding system that punts to the State Board of Education some key decisions on how dollars for disadvantaged students must be spent and accounted for.
Senate Bill 91, the 178-page “trailer” bill containing statutory changes for Gov. Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula, was released Thursday, one day before lawmakers must vote on the $96 billion state budget that includes funding for the new system. Its provisions won’t satisfy advocates for disadvantaged children who had called for restrictions tightly tying funding to targeted students along with detailed information on how every school spends its money. But the bill also may not please districts that wanted broad district control over allocations under the LCFF. The bill indicates the solution – that extra dollars must be spent “in proportion” to the high-needs students who generate them – is somewhere in between.
“We tried to thread the needle,” said Rick Simpson, deputy chief of staff to Assembly Speaker John Pérez, D-Los Angeles.
To be more accurate, lawmakers will be handing the thread and the needle to the State Board (better throw in a thimble for the pain), which, under SB 91, will have until Jan. 31, 2014, to write the regulations spelling out what “in proportion” means. What, for example, would be a permissible districtwide program for English learners? Or what’s the minimum proportion of poor children to add an art teacher who will be teaching all students in a school?
Role for parent involvement
Then, no later than March 31, 2014 – two months after the January deadline – the State Board must complete the templates for the new “local control and accountability plan” that all districts, county offices of education and charter schools must do, showing how they would use the extra money for high-needs students to raise student achievement. State Board President Michael Kirst said that the templates would flesh out the extent of information the district must provide, the assessment of needs and analysis they must conduct and the process they must follow. The county superintendent will be charged with reviewing the plan to verify that the expenses are sufficient to pay for the district’s commitments and that programs will benefit students. If the county superintendent disapproves the plan, the district’s board must publicly respond to the county’s suggestions.
The bill is clear that the extra money should be used to improve or expand programs and services for those students; the State Board will clarify what those might be. Advocate groups will be looking for explicit requirements for parent involvement in the creation of the plan and spending details by school, not simply districtwide. “Local engagement and transparency are key,” said John Affeldt, managing attorney at Public Advocates Inc., a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization. SB 91 requires that a superintendent consult a district’s new parent advisory committee for the plan, but does not spell out the role of existing school-site councils of parents.
Under the LCFF, districts will receive 20 percent more funding for every English learner, low-income child and foster youth. Those districts in which high-needs students comprise at least 55 percent of the student body will get even more money for a portion of those students.
The three-year local accountability plan, which would be updated yearly, would spell out actions the district would take to expand parent involvement, carry out Common Core standards and ensure there are fully credentialed teachers in schools. The bill details 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. Kirst said that most of these are already reported on School Accountability Report Cards or SARCs.
‘Holistic’ measures of student success
Including these measures creates a broader view of student progress and in turn is reflected in how districts will be held accountable, Simpson said. In the May revision of the state budget, Brown had proposed to use API scores as the single measure for deciding when to intervene in districts with chronically bad results. Instead, in SB 91, legislative leaders have called for a “holistic, multidimensional assessment” of districts’ and individual schools’ performance (section 52064.5). Once again, it will be the State Board’s job to create the rubric determining when and in what form district sanctions should be imposed. The intent is to focus not on imposing penalties but on providing technical assistance and expertise to help districts improve. “We are unconvinced that market-based approaches, sanctions and threats are the way to change systems,” said Simpson, who helped negotiate the language of SB 91.
Instead of sending in the sheriff – an intervention consultant with marching orders – the county superintendent or the state superintendent of public instruction would assign the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, a new entity that State Superintendent Tom Torlakson would create.
In a statement on Thursday, Torlakson indicated that the Collaborative would reflect a transformation of the state Department of Education, as control over spending and decision-making shifts to local districts. “While our role as a monitor is important to our mission, we also see enormous potential in becoming a more helpful partner, working side by side with school districts as they strive to improve results for students.”
SB 91 makes it clear that formal intervention, including the assignment of a trustee to create and administer a local control and accountability plan, would be a last resort, after years of persistent failure to raise student achievement. New regulations would lay out the timetable for intervention.
Sherry Griffith, interim assistant executive director for the Association of California School Administrators, said she was pleased with the approach that legislative leaders have taken in creating the Collaborative, “providing more upfront assistance rather than cracking the whip.” The big question is who Torlakson will turn to for the work. Griffith also said it’s appropriate to involve the State Board in establishing LCFF regulations. “This is complicated enough not to want people in back rooms cooking up an approach,” she said. “The Board has checks and balances; all of the details will be publicly vetted.”