It was the morning after the evening of the last revision, and the father of the Local Control Funding Formula looked upon all that the governor and Legislature had made, and declared, “Hey, not bad.”

Michael Kirst

Michael Kirst

Michael Kirst is relishing the all-but-certain passage later this week of the comprehensive school funding reform that he co-designed. That was five years ago, and, after many twists and iterations, the final version, negotiated over the weekend by Gov. Jerry Brown, Assembly Speaker John Pérez, D-Los Angeles, and Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, ended up quite like the one published in April 2008. The framework – with base funding, a supplemental grant for every low-income student and English learner, and extra dollars again to districts with the highest concentrations of those targeted students – was in the paper that Kirst co-wrote with former California Secretary of Education Alan Bersin and then Berkeley Law Center professor and now state Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu.

“It is extremely rare in policy analysis that 80 percent of what you recommend is put into law,” Kirst, a professor emeritus at Stanford, said Tuesday. “Usually you hope policy makers will consider half or less.”

But in this case, paternity won’t end with conception. Kirst, who’s also president of the State Board of Education, confirmed that the State Board is expected to be given a key role in implementing the Local Control Funding Formula. In rushing to agree on the LCFF in time for passage with the budget by the June 15 statutory deadline, staff for the Assembly, Senate and Brown administration apparently have left key requirements dealing with local control for the State Board to regulate. The State Board will help frame how to hold local districts accountable for the extra dollars that districts will receive under the LCFF for low-income students and English learners. It will be a new role for the Board, which already has a tight schedule involving deadlines for the Common Core standards and a new academic accountability system.

The language of the accountability piece of the LCFF, which will be part of the budget trailer bill, laying out statutory changes, was still being drafted on Tuesday and may not be ready until late Wednesday, said Rick Simpson, Pérez’s deputy chief of staff. Advocates for low-income students, who have been arguing for tight controls over districts’ use of the money, and district administrators, who have been lobbying for more latitude in shifting dollars around, agree the precise wording will be critical. Among the issues:

  • How detailed will be the plan that each district has to write specifying how LCFF dollars will be used?
  • To what extent must parents and the community be consulted in creating the plan?
  • Must the extra dollars for high-needs students be spent at the schools they attend?
  • What are the spending restrictions for the supplemental and concentration dollars?
  • What measures will the state use, besides test scores and the state’s API score, to determine if the dollars are bringing results?
  • What will happen to districts whose results don’t grow quickly enough?

The Kirst-Liu-Bersin plan, “Getting Beyond the Facts: Reforming California School Finance,” didn’t deal with these issues. They expected the Legislature would take them up upon passage of a new finance system.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think then that I would be in the center of this now,” Kirst said.

But state deregulation of education programs, the end of most categorical programs and the transfer of decision making to local districts was one of the five underlying principles of the system they envisioned, Kirst said.

The others were:

  • Establishing an underlying rationale for a new system with a repeal of spending formulas that had accumulated for 30 years though “historical accretion;”
  • Creating a financing system that is relatively easy to understand, with a few basic components;
  • Allocating money guided by student needs;
  • Instituting a new system with new money going forward without reducing the current allocation to districts.

The Kirst-Liu-Bersin plan also called for adjusting payments to school districts based on regional costs of living – a factor that Brown didn’t include in his formula. But it was the last goal that proved the most difficult for Brown and legislators. Brown had claimed that the Local Control Funding Formula would hold districts harmless, but it was only after he agreed to raise the base per-student funding by an average of $537 following protracted negotiations that it actually assured it.

Kirst and the others researched their paper in 2006 and 2007, when it looked like revenues would continue to rise. The paper included three scenarios, with supplemental grants for low-income students and English learners from 25 to 40 percent of base funding and concentration grants of up to double the base starting in schools with 50 percent high-needs students. Brown proposed the LCFF after five years of budget cuts; holding districts harmless by restoring schools to 2007-08 spending levels forced Brown to reduce the percentages of targeted assistance below what Kirst and the other authors suggested.

Justice Liu will have to keep whatever satisfaction he feels about the LCFF to himself. Assuming he does not have to recuse himself, he may eventually hear two cases – Robles-Wong v. State of California and Campaign for Quality Education v. State of California – challenging the adequacy of the level of California’s school funding, which are winding their way through the courts.


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  1. Richard ONeill 3 years ago3 years ago

    It is reasonable to ask how new money can leverage existing human resource assets. Common Core’s initialization costs, and the confusion and political cover an untried system will generate, will obscure the issue; how can school sites effectively translate this investment into genuine results? If Past is prologue, it’s going to be a real struggle. Money is necessary but not sufficient, but kudos to CA for the social will to march in this direction. We are indeed a great state.

  2. Mike 3 years ago3 years ago

    An interesting thing about the rhetoric around LCFF as it relates to Serrano is the twist advocates for the LCFF put on the "right to equity" as a justification for unequal per pupil funding. The Serrano case held that wealth-related disparities in funding were unconstitutional, which led to decades of on-again and off-again equalization to reduce differences in base funding that supported each student - the revenue limit under our soon-to-be old system of finance. The … Read More

    An interesting thing about the rhetoric around LCFF as it relates to Serrano is the twist advocates for the LCFF put on the “right to equity” as a justification for unequal per pupil funding.

    The Serrano case held that wealth-related disparities in funding were unconstitutional, which led to decades of on-again and off-again equalization to reduce differences in base funding that supported each student – the revenue limit under our soon-to-be old system of finance. The Serrano court also acknowledged that additional funding could be distributed differentially based on any number of factors, including student need, at the discretion of policymakers as long as the differences in funding weren’t wealth-related. Therefore, the level of differential funding for any purpose was discretionary (leading inevitably to our categorical structure) – and the constitutional test of equity was left to the base revenue limit.

    The spin for LCFF stood Serrano on its head, asserting a legal and moral right to differences in funding per student based inversely on family wealth. Equity could only be achieved if resources were weighted to compensate for differences in opportunity, and measures of wealth are the proxy for those differences in the LCFF. This is something that some public advocacy attorneys had long hoped to achieve through the judicial system – now it has happened not through the judiciary, but through the other two branches of government.

    Maybe this spin was all just part of the push to sell the proposal, but I too would love to see some thoughts about these issues from a legal and constitutional perspective by the attorneys who live and breath it. Fascinating stuff.

    Replies

    • Manuel 3 years ago3 years ago

      The problem with all these twists is what effect they ultimately have on students. Not long ago districts in California were blatantly unequal in that they would maintain schools "in the wrong side of town" at clearly lower levels than in the better-off side. Santa Monica and Stockton come to mind, for example. Not to mention that the kids from the nice side would get placed in the college track and the rest would be placed … Read More

      The problem with all these twists is what effect they ultimately have on students.

      Not long ago districts in California were blatantly unequal in that they would maintain schools “in the wrong side of town” at clearly lower levels than in the better-off side. Santa Monica and Stockton come to mind, for example. Not to mention that the kids from the nice side would get placed in the college track and the rest would be placed in the shop, excuse me, CTE track.

      These inequities in funding are not that much different than those that brought about the Serrano cases, in my opinion. The only difference is that this was never brought before the courts. Consequently, we still have differences in funding, both in cases where parents form booster clubs in districts like LAUSD and when cities are “basic-aid” such as Beverly Hills.

      In the meantime, greater attention is paid to the low scores of poor students and English learners and calls have been made to change that. The only way this can be remedied is to abolish poverty. But since that’s not going to happen in the USofA, it is easier to institute programs in schools to attempt to reduce the poverty handicap. Now come complaints that, well, by doing that we are discriminating middle class students. Worse, this is being done by using the Serrano case as cover!

      Let’s be blunt: many in the state don’t want to spend the money that it takes to increase the scores of poor students. The comment sections of the LA Times is filled with posts attacking these students as illegal, not having a culture of educational achievement, of being leaches of the taxpayer, etc. Here, the argument is that it goes against the Serrano decision. Is there much difference in the end?

      IANAL, but has it occurred to anyone that perhaps the interpretation of California’s equal protection under the law clause offered by the California Supreme Court in 1971 needs to be revised under the new circumstances? The citizens of California were then content to let residents of poor districts suffer the consequences of their economic status (some would say choices). I would hope that now we have a different view on that. To drag out a 40 year old landmark legal case, make it fit a completely different set of circumstances, and use it to deny extra funding to those who need it seems to me a desperate attempt to turn back the clock on school funding.

      I hope that I am wrong in that depressing conclusion and I too would like to hear a professional opinion (but I ain’t paying their hourly rate).

  3. el 3 years ago3 years ago

    If I’m reading this right, it’s only the concentration factor that makes it matter which district our ELL/low income student attends. The first grant appears even for just one student. Thus, the per pupil difference would in theory max out at closer to $1500… and that would be if your low poverty district was adjacent to Fresno Unified.

    Replies

    • navigio 3 years ago3 years ago

      Right. Put another way, if you were one student above the concentration threshold, you would get one student's worth of concentration grant. Due to the nature of what makes up a concentration, that money actually 'belongs' to all of the 55% + 1 student. Given the averages cited, in a district with 100% needs kids (ie highest possible concentration scenario), this would mean that 55% of the students would generate about $8500/ADA (base plus need), while … Read More

      Right. Put another way, if you were one student above the concentration threshold, you would get one student’s worth of concentration grant. Due to the nature of what makes up a concentration, that money actually ‘belongs’ to all of the 55% + 1 student.
      Given the averages cited, in a district with 100% needs kids (ie highest possible concentration scenario), this would mean that 55% of the students would generate about $8500/ADA (base plus need), while the remaining 45% above the concentration threshold would generate about $12000/ADA (base + need + conc). When combined, it means just over about $10,000/ADA average, which would be just about $1600 over the average that needs kids in a non-concentration district would generate.
      The case where a district had no needs kids would of course make the district-level discrepancy about $3k/ADA from a district with 100% needs, but that’s the whole point of the weighted funding approach.

  4. Eric Premack 3 years ago3 years ago

    Justice Liu and his colleagues may see more than just two cases. The near-final LCFF would generate such disparities in funding that it simply begs a major legal challenge. Under the LCFF, an English learner or low-income student in one district would generate $3,600/year less than an identical student who happens to live down the street, across a district boundary line. Such massive disparities could prove difficult to defend given that prior court decisions (in the … Read More

    Justice Liu and his colleagues may see more than just two cases.

    The near-final LCFF would generate such disparities in funding that it simply begs a major legal challenge. Under the LCFF, an English learner or low-income student in one district would generate $3,600/year less than an identical student who happens to live down the street, across a district boundary line.

    Such massive disparities could prove difficult to defend given that prior court decisions (in the Serrano I-III cases) found that (1) disparities in funding are subject to “strict scrutiny” and (2) that disparities in the range of $500+ per pupil are not allowed.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 3 years ago3 years ago

      Interesting point, Eric. I am hoping some school attorneys will weigh in on the issue. Would you make the same argument for charter schools serving high-needs students in a district that does not reach the concentration threshold? They too won’t get extra money.

      • Skeptic 3 years ago3 years ago

        Actually, that's really not clear. If you look at the proposed trailer bill: http://leginfo.ca.gov/pub/13-14/bill/sen/sb_0051-0100/sb_91_bill_20130612_amended_asm_v98.htm For a charter school physically located in more than one school district, the charter school’s percentage of unduplicated pupils calculated pursuant to paragraph (5) of subdivision (b) in excess of 55 percent used to calculate concentration grants shall not exceed that of the school district with the highest percentage of unduplicated pupils calculated pursuant to paragraph (5) of subdivision (b) in excess of … Read More

        Actually, that’s really not clear. If you look at the proposed trailer bill:

        http://leginfo.ca.gov/pub/13-14/bill/sen/sb_0051-0100/sb_91_bill_20130612_amended_asm_v98.htm

        For a charter school physically located in more than one school district, the charter school’s percentage of unduplicated pupils calculated pursuant to paragraph (5) of subdivision (b) in excess of 55 percent used to calculate concentration grants shall not exceed that of the school district with the highest percentage of unduplicated pupils calculated pursuant to paragraph (5) of subdivision (b) in excess of 55 percent of the school districts in which the charter school has a school facility.

        First as a non lawyer, I’m not sure how a school can be “physically” located in more than one school district. Also, couldn’t the language above result in the same disparities that could prove difficult to defend in court?

  5. Fred Jones 3 years ago3 years ago

    California policymakers have been turning a blind eye to Career Technical Education for 30 years. As a result, mandates and accountability policies in Sacramento provide a perverse incentive for districts/schools to "close shop", so to speak (since they are not required to offer CTE and aren't measured for career prep criteria, but are for core academics, most especially ELA/Math). And what has this Administration attempted to do with LCFF? Continue to ignore CTE by … Read More

    California policymakers have been turning a blind eye to Career Technical Education for 30 years. As a result, mandates and accountability policies in Sacramento provide a perverse incentive for districts/schools to “close shop”, so to speak (since they are not required to offer CTE and aren’t measured for career prep criteria, but are for core academics, most especially ELA/Math).

    And what has this Administration attempted to do with LCFF? Continue to ignore CTE by allowing districts to spend this money any way they want (with vague generalities about having to include career readiness indicators in their locally-devised “accountability” plans).

    Fortunately, experienced Legislators have fought for protecting some CTE programs in this negotiated Budget, but the lion’s share of the CTE funding stream (ROP and Adult Ed) will remain in limbo for the next two years.

    Really? Is that the message we want to send to California schools? Give them funding flexibility but preserve most of the course-mandates, measurements, and high-stakes incentives that have led to the curricular narrowing phenomenon that so many have bemoaned. Is that “local control”?

    I will be anxious to read the details of the Trailer Bill to determine whether LCFF will become a “green light” for districts to spend more on less, continuing to ignore most California students, employers, labor organizations and our economy (but continuing the population spike in our 4-year colleges and prisons).

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