Now that the state’s new system of funding schools has been signed into law, educators and community groups are trying to get their bearings. At an event recently a colleague from a county office of education said that she was being inundated by calls from the field “wanting to know what the new rulebook is” for transitioning to the new system and ensuring successful implementation.
The old rulebook that governed how schools spent their money, which was both stifling and (let’s be honest) comforting at times, has been replaced by the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which now offers an opportunity for communities to take the reins to implement locally tailored approaches, while being held accountable for student outcomes.
Our economy and global society now requires its workers to effectively discern, communicate, create and have the ability to solve challenging problems. To foster these habits of mind among students, the environments in which they learn must embody these same traits.
Yes, the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, the Department of Finance and even the State Controller’s Office will be developing and disseminating rules and guidelines on the implementation of the new funding system. In fact, that process is beginning now. And the state and county offices of education will retain an important role around oversight, but each community will have the liberty and responsibility to map their own course of action.
Thus schools and districts will be held accountable for meeting the state’s priorities, such as access to credentialed teachers, implementation of the new Common Core standards, and improving student achievement. But they get to decide which strategies to use to reach those goals: for example, summer learning programs, collaboration time for teachers to reflect on student data and work, early childhood education programs or any number of other possible approaches.
Given this flexibility, instead of a one-size-fits-all rulebook, we need a structure that supports inquiry so that educators and community leaders can reflect on and continuously improve local practice. The challenging, and hopefully invigorating work to develop and implement a coherent, effective, locally based educational strategy under the new funding system will begin in earnest in the coming weeks and months. Here are some initial questions for districts and communities to consider as they begin this important work.
Vision and priorities
The Local Control and Accountability Plans required under the new funding system ask districts (in consultation with the community) to articulate a vision and priorities for improving student outcomes:
- What is the vision (of teachers, principals, district officials and community leaders) for educating students? How do state and local priorities, under the local accountability plan, fit into that vision?
- What data should be reviewed to assess progress on each of the state and local priority areas?
- What is the evidence that particular approaches will have a measurable, positive impact on the state and local priorities that have been identified?
- What strategies could be put into place to ensure district and school site goals are aligned?
Making community-wide commitments
LCFF represents an opportunity to further build and strengthen commitments between districts and the community on behalf of students.
- Who are the local leaders that can help be a voice for students and represent diverse perspectives, including youth, parents, educators, business leaders, underserved populations, faith-based communities, elected officials, civic and community organizations and the media?
- What commitments are these leaders willing to make to help support student success and what support do they need to allow them to effectively engage?
- What type of commitments is the district willing to make to maintain and strengthen these partnerships on behalf of student success (e.g., holding regular forums, ensuring materials are presented in a way that supports effective community engagement, identifying staff liaisons)?
Coming off of years of dramatic cuts in public education, it is important to begin rebuilding. Making strategic, transparent investments with the resources under the new finance system will be critical to building and maintaining public trust and restoring and improving services and infrastructure:
- Do the district’s existing expenditures align with the state priorities, and any local priorities, outlined in the local accountability plan? How will one-time Common Core funding for technology, professional development and instructional materials be spent? How do these investments align with the local accountability plan?
- Once the State Budget proposal for 2014-15 is released in January 2014, what additional resources does the district expect to receive from the state in the form of base funding for all students and additional supplemental and concentration dollars generated by low-income students, English learners and foster youth?
- What portion of the funding that would be received for the 2014-15 budget year is already obligated (e.g., reserve levels, collective bargaining agreements, addressing structural deficits, restricted routine maintenance)? This is important to know so it is clear how much money is actually available for other purposes.
- What is the cost for providing new, or augmenting existing, programs, services and strategies? Which student populations will benefit from these approaches?
Process for community engagement
The new funding system requires districts to engage the community in the creation of their local accountability plans, which can help support effective planning and partnerships between districts and community leaders.
- What process will be put in place to solicit feedback from community members at the district and individual school site levels?
- What is the timeline for this process?
A number of statewide, regional and local partners will be on the cutting edge developing more comprehensive tools and tailored technical assistance to support local communities, and leaders within communities will be doing the critical work to shape and implement practices that benefit kids. By thinking through and addressing these questions and others together, we have the opportunity to educate California’s students in ways that are more responsive and effective in meeting their needs.
Samantha Tran is a Senior Director of Education Policy for Children Now, the leading nonpartisan, multi-issue research, policy development and advocacy organization dedicated to promoting children’s health and education in California, and the leader of The Children’s Movement of California.