In an advocacy arms race, groups representing school boards and district administrators on one side and advocates for low-income children and English learners on the other are lining up hundreds of speakers for a State Board of Education hearing Thursday on proposed Local Control Funding Formula regulations.
The import of the subject will match what the State Board expects will be a very long day, with a record audience expected to quickly reach the capacity of the boardroom and two overflow rooms at the state Department of Education’s offices on 14th Street in Sacramento. From there, it’s the park across the street, where advocacy groups and the Association of California School Administrators and the California School Boards Association have permits to set up tents.
State Board staff are anticipating between 400 and 600 attendees, with many signing up to speak. Doors will open at 6 a.m. for people to stand in line and sign up to speak for the meeting, which will start at 8:30 and continue without a lunch break (board members will at least get sandwiches delivered to their seats).
For many parents, school board members and community organizers – some driving all night from Southern California – it will be a long distance to travel to speak for a maximum of 1 minute. To discourage repetition (good luck!), the Board is offering groups with five speakers to designate one speaker for three minutes; groups with 10 speakers can have one speaker for 5 minutes.
Fortunately for other Californians, the hearing will be webcast.
The hearing and vote by the State Board will end six months of intense discussions and lobbying over regulations governing how school districts must spend supplemental dollars for three groups of students entitled to them under the Local Control Funding formula: low-income children, students learning English and foster youth, who together comprise about 60 percent of students in the state. The Board will also vote on a template that districts will use in writing a three-year spending plan, the Local Control and Accountability Plan or LCAP. It requires districts to detail how spending will respond to eight state priorities encompassing student achievement and engagement, parent involvement, career and college readiness and implementation of the Common Core standards.
Two months ago, the school districts and administrators and advocacy groups like Public Advocates, Education Trust-West and Children Now diverged sharply over initial drafts of the regs and the template. But staff of the State Board have succeeded in narrowing differences with the release 10 days ago of the final draft. And now both sides have acknowledged improvements.
“Our coalition is pleased with what we are seeing. The State Board struck a balance,” said Steve Ward, the legislative analyst in charge of government relations for Clovis Unified and spokesman for the California School Finance Reform Coalition, whose 54 member districts have been critical of the proposed regulations and parts of the funding law.
“We believe (the emergency regulations and template) have come a long way since the November 2013 meeting in balancing flexibility with equity,” said the introduction to a Jan. 10 letter from a coalition of 30 community and parent organizations.
There are remaining substantive disagreements – particularly over how much flexibility districts should have in spending money targeted to high-needs students – that won’t be settled after hours of testimony. The Board on Thursday will pass only emergency regulations to comply with a Legislature-imposed deadline. The Board will then begin a six- to nine-month process of adopting final regulations.
Thursday’s debate will serve as the prelude to the next round.