Draft regs detail how much districts must spend on high-needs students
January 4, 2014 | By John Fensterwald | 12 Comments
The draft regulations that districts have been waiting for to guide their decisions under the Local Control Funding Formula are now out. On Jan. 16, the State Board of Education will vote to adopt them, setting in motion six months of planning leading to districts’ first budgets subject to new accountability requirements under the state’s new K-12 finance system.
The proposed new regs would technically be emergency regulations subject to revision later this year. They, along with a revised template for the Local Control and Accountability Plan or LCAP – a document aligning a district’s improvement goals with its spending priorities – were posted Friday as part of the State Board’s agenda for its next meeting (see items 20 and 21).
The proposed regulations are the State Board staff’s effort to strike a balance between the LCFF’s twin goals of providing districts, charter schools and county offices of education with flexibility to budget based on their own priorities and requiring that they spend extra money they receive for low-income children, foster youths and English learners on those students.
The latest revisions differ significantly from what the State Board presented two months ago and reflect changes in response to sharp criticisms from advocates for high-needs students. They charged that the original version had big loopholes letting districts spend dollars for those children however they wanted as long as they promised to take measures leading to higher achievement. Districts no longer have that option. Instead they must explain in their LCAP the actions they would take and expenditures needed to accomplish them to provide services for the student subgroups.
The latest draft answers two of the biggest questions that districts and advocates raised:
- How do districts, charter schools and county offices of education calculate how much additional services they must provide each year for the extra dollars they get for high-needs children?
- How restricted must that extra money be: Must the money and services be limited solely to those children?
Formula for spending on high-needs students
The proposed regs detail the formula that districts must use, and include an accompanying document that illustrates how it would work for a district in which 68 percent of students are foster youth, low-income or English learners (Long Beach and Pasadena Unified are close to that).
At full implementation in a projected eight years, the district would receive 20 percent more revenue because of those students and would have to demonstrate how it provided a proportional amount of additional or improved services for them. But in the transition years, as the dollars gradually build up, the district’s obligation to provide those services would be prorated based on LCFF dollars funded that year. So next year, that district theoretically would have to provide only 6.9 percent more in services. Services are defined broadly to include technology, facilities, student support services and “other general infrastructure necessary to operate and deliver educational instruction and related services.”
Now, the State Board recognizes that there is no credible way for a district to demonstrate down to a tenth of a percent what it has done for those students, said Brooks Allen, a former ALCU attorney who is now the State Board’s new deputy policy director and assistant legal counsel. What the State Board expects, he said, is evidence in the LCAP of “steady progress during the phase-in, building toward full implementation.”
Schoolwide and distictwide expenditures
On the other big issue — whether money for high-needs students had to be spent only on them, the draft regs creates a distinction that may not satisfy advocates of those children, who have wanted extra dollars to follow and be spent specifically on those kids. The regs say that districts with at least 55 percent high-needs students can use the supplemental dollars for districtwide purposes, say for an extended year or training math teachers in Common Core. But in their LCAPs, districts would have to specify how that use of the money would raise achievement for the targeted students.
Districts in which high-needs students comprise less than 55 percent of enrollment also could use supplemental dollars for districtwide purposes, but they would face an additional burden of proof. They would have to show that the supplemental dollars were “the most effective use of the funds” to meet the achievement goals for those students. During the LCAP process, school board and superintendents would be required to ask parents and community members for their views on spending priorities.
Like districts, supplemental dollars could be spent for schoolwide purposes when high-needs students comprise at least 40 percent of enrollment. Schools with high-needs students making up less than 40 percent of enrollment could, like districts, also spend targeted dollars for schoolwide purposes — but only after making the case that it’s the best way to accomplish achievement for high-needs students.
Two advocates for low-income children who have followed the LCFF regulations and suggested changes credited the staff of the State Board for incorporating some of their ideas.
“This is worlds better than the version in November. We suggested how to do the formula, and what they came up with was pretty close,” said John Affeldt, managing attorney for the San Francisco-based nonprofit Public Advocates.
Samantha Tran, senior director of education policy for Oakland-based Children Now, also praised the inclusion of the formula calculating how much districts must spend for high-needs students; it nearly mirrors what her organization proposed, she said.
But both she and Affeldt also criticized the proposed threshold levels enabling dollars allotted to high-needs students to be used for schoolwide and districtwide purposes as too low. In two-thirds of school districts, 55 percent of the students are low-income, foster youth and English learners; in three-quarters of schools in the state, high-needs students make up at least 40 percent of enrollment. The concept of schoolwide or districtwide expenditures is not the issue, Tran said; districts may have effective strategies when deployed systemwide. Supplemental money for high-needs students shouldn’t be restricted to pullout programs, like tutoring, in schools, she said. “But without tightening the language, the extra money for these students could be used for anything, watering down the impact and the intent of the law,” she said.
Affeldt suggested raising the threshold for using money for high-needs students for districtwide purposes to at least 65 percent.
The package of materials in the State Board agenda includes:
- The proposed regulations and the revised LCAP template;
- An example of how the formula for annual spending on high-needs students would work for a district;
- A detailed explanation by State Board staff of the revisions they made in response to the suggestions they received.
(This article has been updated to include reactions to the draft regulations. I’ll be writing a second piece on the revised template for the Local Control and Accountability Plan.)
John Fensterwald covers state education policy. Contact him and follow him on Twitter @jfenster. Sign up here for a no-cost online subscription to EdSource Today for reports from the largest education reporting team in California.