Source: Education Trust-West

EdTrust West's Carrie Hahnel

As districts completed their first-ever Local Control and Accountability Plans this spring, the caveat “this is a learning year” became their oft-shared refrain. Now that more than 1,000 district LCAPs have been stamped as “approved” by their boards and sent off to county offices for review, what have we learned?

At The Education Trust–West, we have been collecting hundreds of LCAPs, with support from partner organizations across the state. These plans are now available to the public through the website LCAP Watch. In scrutinizing dozens of  LCAPs, we’ve learned a few things about these first-year plans.

First, we’ve learned that the LCAP often presents an incomplete picture of a district’s plan. While advocates and community members expected a comprehensive plan that would connect a district’s academic plan to its budget, they have repeatedly been frustrated to find a document that falls short of this vision. Often, the LCAP only includes those services supported by Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) dollars, and sometimes only a portion of  funds.

Especially concerning to us, we’ve learned that it is difficult-to-impossible to tell what services have been increased or improved for high-need students.

One district’s parent advisory council, upon reviewing the plan, asked why only some school sites had social workers. The district responded that while each school has social workers, only some of those positions are funded by LCFF. In many other districts, investments in Common Core — technology and instructional materials, in particular — don’t show up in the LCAP, since those costs are covered by the $1.25 billion investment in Common Core the state made in 2013. When districts use the LCAP to document expenditures of a narrow pot of funds rather than treating it as a broad planning tool, it serves to create confusion, not transparency.

Second, we’ve learned that reading these plans requires patience and a fair bit of sleuthing. To understand how goals are connected to actions, the reader has to flip back and forth between two disconnected sections. To truly understand how all LCFF dollars are being spent, the intrepid reader may need to also pore through the district’s budget, board minutes, or other documents. For instance, some districts are using large swaths of increased LCFF funds for staff raises, but these salary increases aren’t typically disclosed in the LCAP. Instead, those decisions are only uncovered through review of detailed budget documents, labor contracts, or by simply having that background knowledge.

Third, and especially concerning to us, we’ve learned that it is difficult-to-impossible to tell what services have been increased or improved for high-need students. The current template and guidelines do not require districts to disclose their prior-year spending or services for high-need students, nor do they require districts to describe a base program that all students receive. Without this information, it’s unclear what will be new for high-need students as compared with prior years, or what additional services they will receive beyond what all students are getting.

Making this even more opaque, most districts don’t identify which expenditures are from LCFF base funding and which are from LCFF supplemental or concentration grants. With this lack of transparency, it’s simply not possible to know whether LCFF is fulfilling its promise of offering additional services and supports to low-income students, English learners, and foster youth — or whether the dollars are just being used to pay for preexisting programs and shore up rising staffing costs.

The revised LCAP template the State Board will be considering this week partially addresses these issues. It tightens the connection between goals and actions, and it makes it easier for readers to see what services will be provided to all students versus what additional services will be provided high-need students. In addition, a newly proposed Annual Updates section will ask the district to compare proposed services and expenditures to what was actually provided. These revisions will help, but they won’t make the LCAP much easier to read. We’ll still be left with a multi-celled, multi-columned puzzle that tells a partial, jumbled story of what the district is doing to improve outcomes for students.

Despite its limitations, some districts have been able to use the existing LCAP to tell a clear story, offering sufficient detail on how they’re increasing or improving services in order to address opportunity and achievement gaps. San Jose Unified and Berkeley Unified are just two examples of districts that accomplish this with their LCAPs. The State Board should listen to what districts like these have to say about how a new template could better address their needs while also resulting in transparency, readability, and clarity around how expenditures support high-need students.

Yes, this has been a learning year. Let’s hope the state board takes the time to learn from the experiences of district leaders, community stakeholders, and the plans themselves.

Carrie Hahnel is Director of Research and Policy Analysis for The Education Trust–West, a statewide education advocacy organization.


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  1. Concerned parent 11 months ago11 months ago

    I attended many LCAP town hall meetings and school board meetings as a parent. It is my opinion only, say, ten percent of the entire school district budget was considered to involve parent input. It is my jaded opinion that the process is not working and there needs to be State oversight to ensure monies are being spent properly and devoted properly to low performing children instead of juiced into old crony high income schools. Not sure if … Read More

    I attended many LCAP town hall meetings and school board meetings as a parent.

    It is my opinion only, say, ten percent of the entire school district budget was considered to involve parent input.

    It is my jaded opinion that the process is not working and there needs to be State oversight to ensure monies are being spent properly and devoted properly to low performing children instead of juiced into old crony high income schools.

    Not sure if the entire process is worth any parent income at all.

    also, mant teachers also spoke about their belief of not having power in deciding how monies are spent.

    the LCAP process is a failure since bad oversight is in effect.

    Replies

    • Concerned parent 11 months ago11 months ago

      I mis typed Parent income I meant to say parent input... Also, I appreciate this well,written article by Ms. Hahnel, I am in agreement that the LCAP is a burecratic tool that has little value because parent input is given say 5-10% of any power with regard to spending monies. I witnessed, in my opinion a sot of "gaming" of the process where preconceived paths of spending decisions were all done in advance of parent input, … Read More

      I mis typed

      Parent income

      I meant to say parent input…

      Also, I appreciate this well,written article by Ms. Hahnel, I am in agreement that the LCAP is a burecratic tool that has little value because parent input is given say 5-10% of any power with regard to spending monies. I witnessed, in my opinion a sot of “gaming” of the process where preconceived paths of spending decisions were all done in advance of parent input, and as the process unfolded about, in my opinion, three high level,district office leaders decided on how monies would be spent.

      The LCAP was a farce.

  2. Jack in CA 2 years ago2 years ago

    COE's have a responsibility now to review the LCAP's submitted by individual districts. Let's see if any COE has the courage to provide critical feedback and send an LCAP back to a district for revision. As the "intermediary" unit, this will provide each COE an opportunity to do the right thing. I am not overly optimistic (for those of you reading my comments and snickering at them), possibly not even hopeful. … Read More

    COE’s have a responsibility now to review the LCAP’s submitted by individual districts. Let’s see if any COE has the courage to provide critical feedback and send an LCAP back to a district for revision. As the “intermediary” unit, this will provide each COE an opportunity to do the right thing. I am not overly optimistic (for those of you reading my comments and snickering at them), possibly not even hopeful. Having said that, I am willing to wait and see if the review and revision process has any hope of working.

    Replies

    • S Nelson 2 years ago2 years ago

      Jack? – wait and see? If you know of a particularly bad LCAP – make your comments in writing – very specific – to the COE. Copy to the COE Board, and the COE Superintendent. Please do not just sit back and see.

    • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

      What about San Francisco Unified where the COE and the BOE are one and the same? The way I see it the LCAP portion of LCFF is simply a way for the State Board to pass its authority to the districts while remaining a state funded system. A district receives the state funding but oversight is provided by the county. Don't the people who fund public education in California deserve to know if the … Read More

      What about San Francisco Unified where the COE and the BOE are one and the same?

      The way I see it the LCAP portion of LCFF is simply a way for the State Board to pass its authority to the districts while remaining a state funded system. A district receives the state funding but oversight is provided by the county. Don’t the people who fund public education in California deserve to know if the money was spent according to plan? There’s no semblance of an accountability regiment like that of the SACS codes that required audit.

      The PTA has more authority of their local chapters than the SBE has over its districts.

  3. Gary Ravani 2 years ago2 years ago

    I think the SBE is right in moving cautiously on LCAPs, as it will take some time to see if the system is working. To parents who find it all confusing, that's because it is. It is confusing and complex. Time will allow parents to learn more about the system and reading the documents also. If districts appear to be obfuscating to elude transparency, specific complaints should be made to the authorities. To those who complain … Read More

    I think the SBE is right in moving cautiously on LCAPs, as it will take some time to see if the system is working. To parents who find it all confusing, that’s because it is. It is confusing and complex. Time will allow parents to learn more about the system and reading the documents also. If districts appear to be obfuscating to elude transparency, specific complaints should be made to the authorities.

    To those who complain districts are using funds to support staff compensation, it is time to pause and reflect for a minute. CA has undergone huge staff reductions since the recession, furlough days have reduced compensation, and the fundamental problems some challenged districts have is a non-comptitve salary schedule which makes it difficult to recruit specialists and tends to create high turnover and personnel churn. A challenged school district that had a higher average salary than other local districts would be putting itself at a personnel advantage. Salary is not the main driver of teacher job satisfaction, but teachers aren’t fools either. If they can go to a district a few miles away and improve their compensation and their ability to support their family they are likely to apply at those other districts.

    A couple of other points:

    1) Teacher turnover is a significant problem in the nation and CA. It is a problem of high cost both in terms of dollars (CSU estimated–prior to the recession and massive layoffs–that it cost CA nearly 1/2 a billion a year for “early leavers”) and in instructional program, as faculties count on cohesion and teamwork to do their jobs (school climate). A constant personnel churn inhibits instructional program. [A side point: Despite all the hoopla about getting rid of “bad teachers,” CA’s real problem is keeping teachers.]

    2) The whole LCFF and LCAP debate kind of sidesteps (purposefully?) the real and in depth nature of the funding issue in the state’s schools: it is last (or near last) in funding per child for K-12 education. That is the real “civil rights issue of to time” for CA’s students. One of the key proven reforms for improving educational outcomes, and this is particularly true for students we would characterize today as “unduplicated, is class size reduction. There is solid research on a number of QEIA schools that demonstrate this. CA has the largest class sizes in the nation. Fixing the problem will be expensive. Would that all the self-styed advocates could expend a little effort working on that problem. It really is THE equity and civil rights issue.

  4. Debra Watkins 2 years ago2 years ago

    As Founder and Executive Director of the California Alliance of African American Educators (CAAAE), I delivered public comments at the July 10 SBE to underscore the very travesty (to borrow the term that Dr. J used) that LCAPs have morphed into around the state. Colleagues and friends who heard my comments were texting, emailing and calling me because they said they were powerful. People at CDE were voicing similar sentiments. I share this to elevate how … Read More

    As Founder and Executive Director of the California Alliance of African American Educators (CAAAE), I delivered public comments at the July 10 SBE to underscore the very travesty (to borrow the term that Dr. J used) that LCAPs have morphed into around the state.

    Colleagues and friends who heard my comments were texting, emailing and calling me because they said they were powerful. People at CDE were voicing similar sentiments. I share this to elevate how angry people are that yet another promising policy has been essentially rendered ineffective already by those who do not want to provide services to high needs students and want business as usual.

    Here are the words from my public comments that I feel best underscore how Black and Brown communities feel about resistance to the LCAP by those currently in “power”:

    Karran Harper Royal is a passionate voice for parents sounding the alarm to the rest of the nation about the on-the-ground realities behind the so-called New Orleans miracle. The reform crew there claims to be operating on behalf of disenfranchised communities, yet this is what Mrs. Royal has to say about that: “If you come in and impose what you think is a solution on me, but you don’t have he history and the background to actually craft a real solution, then you may be doing harm. If you don’t have the respect of the people you’re trying to help before you come up with a solution, that is colonialism. That’s not reform. This is not a respectful endeavor. You can’t “do” reform to people. You have to do it with the people. I always say that the solutions lie within the people who are being harmed. The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand.’ So until the people being oppressed start demanding things, power will concede nothing.”

    Today, I stand before the SBE representing the approximately 1500 members and supporters of the CAAAE demanding that Black children get the academic and social support they need to succeed in schools through the spirit of the Local Control Funding Formula. Thank you for listening.

    Will the SBE do anything remotely courageous to right this ship? After 37 years as an educator and community activist, I have serious doubts!

  5. Frances ONeill Zimmerman 2 years ago2 years ago

    A learning year indeed. We are learning that Local Control Funding Formula money is being allocated in opaque ways and some districts are using this windfall to raise staff salaries? LCFF is looking like yet another blank check for school bureaucracies to use as they see fit, under cover of complexity and business-as-usual obfuscation. The hollow mantra is that "we" locals know better than Sacramento how to spend ed dollars. In fact, these new taxes will not … Read More

    A learning year indeed.
    We are learning that Local Control Funding Formula money is being allocated in opaque ways and some districts are using this windfall to raise staff salaries?

    LCFF is looking like yet another blank check for school bureaucracies to
    use as they see fit, under cover of complexity and
    business-as-usual obfuscation.

    The hollow mantra is that “we” locals know better than Sacramento how to spend ed dollars. In fact, these new taxes will not go toward improving the education of students in this state.

    How sad.

  6. Doctor J 2 years ago2 years ago

    Speed Limit signs without cops to hand out tickets to offenders are meaningless. Few districts of the 1000 did an outstanding job; most district Boards just rubber stamped a vague plan to "meet the deadline". See what date they were passed --most at the last Board meeting of June or a Special Meeting to make the deadline. How many plans were approved the same day or within a week of the final … Read More

    Speed Limit signs without cops to hand out tickets to offenders are meaningless. Few districts of the 1000 did an outstanding job; most district Boards just rubber stamped a vague plan to “meet the deadline”. See what date they were passed –most at the last Board meeting of June or a Special Meeting to make the deadline. How many plans were approved the same day or within a week of the final public hearing ?

    Today NAACP’s Willie Mims blasted Mt. Diablo’s LCAP before the SBE. Let me share a response from MDUSD’s Supt. Nellie Meyer to a community question: #35 Q: “There isn’t enough specificity in the plan. This is a vision, not actions.”
    Nellie’s Response(redacted): “In most cases the actions are broad actions. . . . . The second challenge is that for many things we just don’t know yet everything we need to do. We know we need to improve communication across the district but we need some time to find out everything we can about what is happening everywhere, get input about what is working and isn’t from students, parents, community members, and staff. We need to work with communication experts about how to make it better and create the plan. Then, we need to roll it out, get ongoing feedback and make adjustments. Right now we just don’t know enough to make detailed plans. . . . .”
    When Nellie came to Mt. Diablo she has kept the district leadership team virtually intact. How could she say “We just don’t know enough to make detailed plans” ????? Yet she knew enough to give everyone new titles, big raises, and smile. How does she expect to implement change using the same team of people that have resisted change for over ten years ?? Why didn’t her experienced team already know everything about what is happening everywhere to make detailed plans ? LCAP in Mt. Diablo has already been minimized. It’s a travesty.

    Replies

    • SN 2 years ago2 years ago

      (that reply button is addictive) My Board approved our LCAP on the last afternoon possible. Because - we, the Board and the district staff - went through at least one very major revision that substantially improved it. Our community did not really get as much say in this revision process as I'd like (hey - no Spanish language comment form? 44% Hispanic students) but it is 'a first attempt' (and now EdSource … Read More

      (that reply button is addictive) My Board approved our LCAP on the last afternoon possible. Because – we, the Board and the district staff – went through at least one very major revision that substantially improved it. Our community did not really get as much say in this revision process as I’d like (hey – no Spanish language comment form? 44% Hispanic students) but it is ‘a first attempt’ (and now EdSource has told me to compare to SJUSD and BUSD :).

      • Doctor J 2 years ago2 years ago

        The Board comments prior to the LCAP motion are probably more instructive than the unanimous vote to move the LCAP process forward especially with an upcoming hearing on already proposed changes to the LCAP regs. Member Patricia Rucker’s instructive comment not to confuse “salutary neglect” as synonymous with “patience and trusting the process” was spot on. All Board comments seem to focus on including parents and a broad spectrum of students early on in the … Read More

        The Board comments prior to the LCAP motion are probably more instructive than the unanimous vote to move the LCAP process forward especially with an upcoming hearing on already proposed changes to the LCAP regs. Member Patricia Rucker’s instructive comment not to confuse “salutary neglect” as synonymous with “patience and trusting the process” was spot on. All Board comments seem to focus on including parents and a broad spectrum of students early on in the development of the LCAP rather than just presenting information to them and getting rubber stamps. If County Superintendents don’t enforce rigorous LCAP standards on the districts, I foresee the SBE and the legislature doing so.
        BTW, which SJUSD ? San Jose or San Juan of suburban Sacramento ?

  7. Tressy Capps 2 years ago2 years ago

    The LCAP process in the Etiwanda School District was an exercise in going thru the motions. Abysmal parent engagement and an administration that wants full control, means this was an exercise in futility. I hope other districts actually embraced the new law. If they didn’t, there is no “penalty”. A law without enforcement is meaningless rhetoric.

    Replies

    • Steven Nelson 2 years ago2 years ago

      This is reform, not revolution. In districts where School Site Councils are rubber stamps and "parent advisory" committees are District Advisory Committees without poor parent elected representatives - not much will have changed. But Co. Offices of Ed. might make a bit of difference - and the best statewide examples will allow this to tighten up. Reform is evolution. Push it - but don't expect democracy to improve without eternal vigilance. Read More

      This is reform, not revolution. In districts where School Site Councils are rubber stamps and “parent advisory” committees are District Advisory Committees without poor parent elected representatives – not much will have changed. But Co. Offices of Ed. might make a bit of difference – and the best statewide examples will allow this to tighten up. Reform is evolution. Push it – but don’t expect democracy to improve without eternal vigilance.

  8. sarah 2 years ago2 years ago

    From experience as a school board member:

    It seemed Board members weren’t terribly interested in a detailed budget. The budget as presented and required by the state did not present the information that tied money to programs and didn’t tie money to policy. A detailed program budget would take care of many of the problems. I tried for years to either have a budget committee and/or program budget without much success.

    Replies

    • Steven Nelson 2 years ago2 years ago

      As a current school board member - I feel your pain! The legislature is watching - and hopefully will start to require 'per student' $ accountability. My district administration did provide me with the $ details per school, and it at least helped push toward 'masses of poor students = more $'. We are still not there - over $1500/"unduplicated" to the small wealthy-educated parent elementary, and a little over $600 to … Read More

      As a current school board member – I feel your pain! The legislature is watching – and hopefully will start to require ‘per student’ $ accountability. My district administration did provide me with the $ details per school, and it at least helped push toward ‘masses of poor students = more $’. We are still not there – over $1500/”unduplicated” to the small wealthy-educated parent elementary, and a little over $600 to the poor-less-educated parent schools. But I now know the fight – and the parent juntas in my District can be quite powerful when they are given information and come up with community organizers.
      It’s all democracy – and it is never easy.

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