After listening to nearly seven hours of 1-minute testimonies that were impassioned, instructive and inevitably repetitious, the State Board of Education, after little debate, unanimously approved temporary regulations Thursday fleshing out a historic education finance law. The new Local Control Funding Formula will not only transform how K-12 schools are funded, but also how student success is measured, and district budgets, with community involvement, are created.
While the latest draft was passed intact, the regulations had gone through substantial revisions over the past five months, as staff of the State Board sought to bridge the disagreements between civil rights and parents groups and school officials. Both sides acknowledged the final version was clearer and surprisingly close to consensus.
Saying he appreciated the work of the State Board and the staff, John Affeldt, managing attorney of Public Advocates, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization, said, “I didn’t think we would get this far. There has been significant movement and we must get on board together to give it a go.”
Nonetheless, Affeldt, a co-signer of a letter with 30 civil rights and advocacy groups, and others continued to press for a handful of wording changes to guarantee that billions of dollars allocated for low-income students and students learning English would be spent directly on them to improve achievement. The most contentious change – more nuanced than drastic – would have forced districts to explicitly justify how using money allotted for high-needs students for districtwide purposes would have principally benefited those students.
Without this tighter restriction, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, told the State Board, “you run the unfortunate risk of diluting funds intended to go to students of needs.”
School administrators and school board members, on the other hand, urged the State Board not to make any changes. The regulations, they said, give 1,000 diverse school districts the latitude to do right by their high-needs students – and all low-performing students. Districts will be able to shift resources for high-needs students where they are most needed.
“I appreciate the simplicity and flexibility and ask you to maintain it,” Linda Wagner, superintendent of 19,000-student Anaheim City School District, said of the regulations. “Don’t mess it up with complications.”
Michael Hulsizer, chief deputy for government affairs with the Kern County Office of Education, said, “Locally elected boards are in the best position to make the determination of what the services should look like. Your regulations do precisely that. Adopt as is.”
And Eric Premack, executive director of the Charter Schools Development Center, called the latest version “a reasonable compromise,” adding, “Hold the line where you have come or it will be a state controlled funding formula instead of the local control funding formula.”
Hundreds come to speak
The hearing culminated unprecedented interest in a regulatory issue and public participation through dozens of meetings, hundreds of comments and emails in response to earlier drafts and calls for public suggestions.
On Thursday, 326 speakers – students, parents, school board members, superintendents and leaders of a range of advocacy organizations – filled the boardroom or sat patiently for hours in chairs set up in the atrium of the State Department of Education. The superintendent of Morgan Hill Unified sent a contingent that included principals, teachers, a school board member, the head of the chamber of commerce, even the police chief as proof that the public engagement process is already working fine, thank you, and needs no more regulating.
Out-organized by advocates at the last State Board discussion on the regulations in November, the California School Boards Association and the Association of California School Administrators must have sent out an all-points bulletin. They set up a big tent in the park across the street to welcome the nearly 200 school board members and administrators from all over the state, from the biggest urban districts – Superintendent John Deasy of Los Angeles Unified and Christopher Steinhauser of Long Beach Unified – to some of the smallest, including Superintendent Roger Bylund of Paradise Unified in rural Butte County. High school students affiliated with The Campaign for Quality Education, a coalition of grassroots groups, warmed up by marching outside the building to a full-throated “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white.” A handful took their chants inside the boardroom with a brief interruption before being asked to leave.
Other students, standing as equals with adults, each with an allotted minute, drew applause for articulate, heartfelt comments.
“After this board meeting today, all of us will be going home but we will not be tired,” said Gabby Ramirez, a 10th grader from Coachella Valley High School with the grassroots group PICO California. “We will be ready to devote our time, energy and faith to ensuring that LCFF lives up to its promise.”
Dolores Huerta, revered leader of the farmworker movement, was among the speakers. Huerta, 83, who cofounded the National Farmworkers Association, added her voice to those calling for stricter rules to make sure money for English learners and poor children “will go where it is intended.”
Quoting from Martin Luther King that “treating unequals equally is not equality,” Huerta told the board, “We have golden opportunity between your leadership, parents, community and schools, all working together to erase inequities we have. That could be the legacy of this board.”
Second bite of the apple
Thursday’s vote won’t end the debate or the board’s tinkering. In order to meet a deadline this month that the Legislature imposed, the State Board actually passed emergency regulations. The Board will immediately begin a six-month process of adopting permanent regulations that will be informed by how school districts respond to the new rules.
Board member Trish Williams said that while she was confident the majority of districts will capitalize on the new law’s potential, there will be problem districts that do not. “Let’s be on the alert for those districts and have a backstop for holding them accountable,” she said
“Some regulatory changes have merit and should be considered,” said State Board President Michael Kirst, an architect of the Local Control Funding Formula. “As Gov. Brown said, this is not the New Testament.”
The board approved two sets of regulations. One establishes a method for districts to calculate the amount of supplemental dollars allocated to high-needs students each year in the estimated eight-year transition period to full funding under the new system. It also lays out the terms for channeling money for school-wide or district-wide purposes.
The other set of regulations creates a template and lays out a transparent public engagement process that districts must follow in creating a detailed three-year document, called the Local Control and Accountability Plan or LCAP. The LCAP marks a fundamental shift in budgeting and decision making. It requires that districts establish school improvement and student achievement goals – preferably in response to extensive discussions with parents, students, teachers and community members – and then tie the goals to specific actions and spending. An example might be a commitment to extend the school day or to hire more counselors to improve the college-going rate for English learners.
Brian Lee, deputy director of the nonprofit Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California, urged the State Board to improve the organization of the LCAP to make it simpler for parents to use and easier for districts to administer by pre-populating data, as it already does with School Accountability Report Cards, to show how districts are meeting state priorities.
State Board member Ilene Straus, who monitored the LCAP proposal, said this was just the first iteration and the LCAP will be modified. Responding to parents’ testimony that the LCAP is vague on what constitutes true parent engagement – full translations, parent training in budgeting, adequate time to review proposals – Straus requested and the State Board approved asking staff to prepare guidelines and best practices to accompany the regulations and the LCAP template.
Included may be guidance for county offices of education on how to evaluate a district’s LCAP. The funding formula law gives county offices the authority to reject an inadequate LCAP but doesn’t say on what basis. Sarah Lillis, director of the EdVoice Institute, emphasized the need for that guidance in her testimony. “The county superintendents are the first line of defense for the state for protecting the constitutional right to a basic education. Counties need clear standards to review district plans,” she said.
Both the spending regulations and the LCAP will take effect July 1. Those districts that have been waiting for the State Board to act to begin involving parents and the community will now have 5½ months to create their LCAPs from scratch.
“I hope we are modeling today what engagement looks like,” State Board member Sue Burr told the audience at the hearing, “and the passion all of you bring happens at the local level.”