Lessons learned: Making the Local Control Funding Formula work

August 4, 2015

Michael Kirst

The transition to a new funding and accountability system for California’s schools has required a more responsive, collaborative and nimble California State Board of Education than at any other time in recent history. The first full year of Local Control Funding Formula implementation is complete, and local educational agencies have produced their first annual updates and second round of accountability plans using a new template adopted by the board.

It is true that this massive shift in decision-making, planning and resource allocation requires patience, persistence and humility. It requires us to be mindful that many of the system components are still evolving.

So, as the board moves forward with its work, I would encourage everyone involved in the process – whether in Sacramento or in local school districts – to keep the following observations in mind:

1. A change of state policy is relatively simple compared to the enormous transformation required to implement a new funding and accountability system in each district and charter school.

 At the state level, our focus is on supporting the work underway in local districts and charters. The 2015-16 state budget acknowledges this by directing more than $52 billion to the funding formula, a 13 percent year-over-year increase in local control funding, bringing all districts and charters closer to full implementation faster than originally anticipated. The budget also provides $40 million specifically to county offices of education to support their work in assisting districts and charters and approving local plans.

The additional funding and accelerated pace for implementation supports overall efforts to improve outcomes for all students, and it especially helps those districts and charters that serve high concentrations of low income students, English language learners and foster youth improve and increase services for them immediately. To keep us informed of progress, county superintendents will continue to make regular presentations to the state board, which provides an opportunity for public dialogue.  The state board and its staff also will continue to engage stakeholders for feedback on implementation efforts.

2. The goal moving forward is to determine how all of the recent changes best lead to improved programs and services for students at the local level.

 A comprehensive look at local plans will be crucial given the new funding formula’s emphasis on providing school districts and charter schools the discretion to consider their own local context, personnel decisions and student circumstances in identifying goals and determining how to achieve them.

Thus far we know that the reforms are leading to more stakeholder engagement and less incremental decision-making. It will be helpful to learn more about how these local processes are fostering a cycle of continuous improvement. While initial reports focused on early implementation challenges, future research should take a deeper look at local plans that adhere to the final funding formula regulations and include accompanying documents that successfully communicate strategic resource allocation decisions with parents and community members.

 3. LCFF oversight is multidimensional, with many new components.

With local control, districts and charters now have discretion to allocate their resources to meet the specific needs of the students they serve. Accountability provisions and public transparency requirements are more extensive than anything previously required for local spending decisions and assessing results:

Notwithstanding this new, system-wide emphasis on continuous improvement and transparency, the board and the state superintendent have the ultimate authority to intervene following multiple years of low performance.

4. Local plans should provide easy to-understand information that articulates strategic thinking, planning and implementation.

Building capacity for this new and different approach to goal setting and resource allocation in local districts and charters will take time. In the midst of this tremendous shift from a compliance-driven system to one in which the Local Control and Accountability Plan process should help produce more effective and efficient local resource allocations, policy improvements may be necessary.

The board is poised to address challenges that are identified and determine the best course of action. As this work evolves in year two, we want to learn more about how local plans and other resources help promote continuous improvement and allow for coordinated, high quality assistance to improve student outcomes.

In the meantime, I am encouraged about how the funding formula reforms are moving decision making closer to where it should have been all along – closer to where children are learning and teachers are teaching.

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Michael Kirst is president of the State Board of Education, and is one of the principal architects of the Local Control Funding Formula. An issue brief he co-authored with Alan Bersin and Goodwin Liu in 2008 titled Reforming California School Finance provided the framework for the current system.

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