State Board poised to elevate parents' role in setting district priorities
January 14, 2014 | By John Fensterwald | 4 Comments
Engaging parents is one of eight priorities that school districts must address under the law creating the new state finance system, the Local Control Funding Formula. Parental and community involvement will also soon become a guiding force behind the funding system’s central element: a three-year budget plan explicitly tying spending to student achievement goals that every district must create.
On Thursday, the State Board will pass the template for that document, the Local Control and Accountability Plan or LCAP (starting on page 7). The Board also will adopt regulations instructing districts on how much latitude they will have – too much, according to some advocates for disadvantaged children – in spending the money that the funding formula earmarks for low-income students, English learners and foster youth.
The goal of the Local Control Funding Formula is to decentralize power and shift decision making from Sacramento to local districts. Together, the LCAP template and the spending regulations will make that happen – and establish what the system’s architect, State Board President Michael Kirst, hopes will be a new national model.
What’s in the LCAP
In the first of its three sections, the proposed LCAP (starting on page 7) provides guidelines for reaching out formally, through district advisory committees, and informally to parents, teachers, students and others in the community.
The second section requires that the district state how its goals and actions respond to the eight state priorities for all students and for subgroups of students, especially the students getting additional dollars. Goals might include increasing access to Advanced Placement courses, with a focus on Hispanic students; raising graduation rates; and increasing parental participation in back-to-school nights. It asks the district to list the data and metrics on which the district set its goals. And it requires the district to detail how goals and actions may differ by individual school, implying that the district should be incorporating suggestions of school site councils. Actions might include recruiting and training more teachers to teach AP courses, adding Partnership Academies that engage students at risk of dropping out in job internships, and introducing home visits to students with high absentee rates.
The third section requires the district to detail how much programs and services to achieve various goals will cost, with breakdowns for students subgroups. It should be clear how the extra dollars for high-needs students will be spent.
The biggest disagreement, which will generate the most testimony on Thursday, will be over the rules for allowing districts to spend those extra dollars for schoolwide or districtwide purposes. Advocates for poor and English-learning students acknowledge benefits from districtwide learning strategies, like adding extra periods for all low-performing students or training all teachers in how to improve English learners’ reading skills. But they want stricter rules to prevent money targeted for high-needs students going to purposes with little direct benefit for those students, like granting across-the-board staff raises or buying tablet computers for all students. The proposed provisions “risk undermining the significant progress that has been made to ensure these grant dollars will benefit the students who generated them,” said a Jan. 10 letter to the State Board from 30 children’s rights and community organizations.
The initial LCAP will be a three-year plan, taking effect on July 1 for the 2014-15 school year. It will be updated annually, with districts asked to cite metrics showing progress in meeting district goals. County offices of education must approve each district’s LCAP; they can’t modify it but can send it back for changes.
Guiding questions for involving parents
The law’s underlying assumption is that local school boards will make wise decisions, based on local needs, after listening to and including the advice of the community, especially parents. The LCAP doesn’t dictate how that will take place, but it does require a school board to document the process by addressing a series of questions. A failure to answer questions fully would be revealing – and in theory grounds for reviewers at the county office of education to reject the LCAP and district budget.
Those questions, in the opening section of the LCAP, include:
- How did the district reach out to a range of groups – not only parents in general but also guardians of foster children, parents of English learners, community organizations, teachers unions and students?
- Did it do so early in the process to allow for meaningful discussions?
- What information and metrics did the district provide parents and members of the district advisory committee?
- What changes were made to the district’s LCAP as a result of the suggestions it received?
- Did it listen to school site councils, which will continue to meet and make recommendations for their schools, as before?
Under state and federal law, districts are required to solicit ideas and recommendations from school site councils for spending of categorical grants. Critics say some principals and school boards merely pay lip service to the law and so doubt the LCAP will make a difference. “All of the decisions on allocation of funding will be made behind closed doors by school district administrators without ‘real’ public and parental input, and will be packaged by the district like a large Christmas present in a marshmallow PowerPoint that no average college graduate can understand — and Board will rubber stamp after 72 hours of review,” commented an EdSource reader from Mount Diablo Unified.
“We have experienced that frustration. I was a school site council chair for five years,” said Roberta Furger, a congregation-based community organizing network. Furger will call on the State Board to be clearer on the role of school site councils in helping to shape the LCAP and to be more explicit on expectations and best practices: who should be on a district parent advisory committee, when and where meetings should be held, how to make data understandable and available, how to best learn what parents really want from their schools. Guiding questions are not the same as guidance, she said.
But at the same time, Furger said, “We have to embrace this opportunity and hold everyone accountable for the spirit and letter of the regs. This is our shot at bringing the community into the process and to serve kids who have been underserved for years.”
Brooks Allen, the new deputy policy director and assistant legal counsel to the State Board of Education, said, “There will always be some skepticism about something that is new. One can’t argue against a hypothetical.” But nothing on this scale has been tried across the nation to integrate budget and instructional goals, he said, and there will be mistaken comparisons with site councils. With the LCAP, the total budget will be subject to a public scrutiny; specific state priorities must be aligned to district goals and shared with advisory committees, and reviewed by county offices of education, he said. The intent is for a two-way conversation, Allen said.
“There will be some variance among districts,” Allen said. “A lot of success will depend on effective engagement process. We hope that this will limit the outliers.”