With Gov. Jerry Brown retiring a year from now, EdSource asked two dozen school leaders, student advocates, legislators and other astute observers to suggest the most important improvements needed to make his landmark education law, the Local Control Funding Formula, more effective, equitable and truer to its promise. Their insightful recommendations touched on the key aspects of the law — its need-based funding formula, school accountability requirements and a focus on school improvement through local control. There was some common ground, plenty of disagreement and one response in verse. Their recommendations are summarized below and my own observations are in a separate column.
Funding formula is working as designed, but …
Rick Simpson, drafter of LCFF law
The Local Control Funding Formula was the most sweeping piece of education policy in 30 years. It redistributed and deregulated existing Proposition 98 funding. It also shifted California’s accountability paradigm from “test and punish” to “diagnose and support.”
As one who was deeply involved in negotiating and drafting the 2013 legislation, I’ll share a few observations.
• The state board has struck the right balance in its dashboard between inputs, such as funding professional development and offering more AP courses, and performances outcomes, including test scores and graduation rates, among the eight state priorities.
• However, I remain concerned about the Local Control and Accountability Plan. While it was intended as a strategic planning tool, in too many districts it has become an unwieldy compliance document. I hope the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence and county offices of education can help districts learn to use LCAPs as intended.
• Improving schools is a necessary but not sufficient condition for improving outcomes for disadvantaged children. To address conditions that children face outside of school, I'd encourage ways for districts to expand services by breaking down silos separating schools and outside community agencies.
• The LCFF formula, itself, is operating as designed.
• However, I don’t believe we fully appreciated its interaction with the CalSTRS (and CalPERS) cost increases. We probably should have factored those into our economic recovery target calculations.
• And finally, California remains profoundly under-invested in its public schools. Given the state and federal fiscal and political constraints, the only feasible pathway to adequate funding is a robust local revenue option.
Before his retirement late last year, Rick Simpson served as Education Adviser to nine Assembly Speakers and in 2013 helped negotiate and write the LCFF legislation.
Legislators, like parents, need spending information
Jonathan Kaplan, California Budget & Policy Center
Keeping the Local Control Funding Formula true to its promise means fulfilling the grand bargain underlying the overhaul of California’s education finance system: The Legislature would provide school districts additional resources for disadvantaged students and flexibility in their use, while districts would have to be transparent in how they used these resources to improve educational outcomes. But while the state has allocated these resources, the current system falls short on transparency — especially at the state level.
The Legislature needs information, just like parents and other local stakeholders, to see where these investments succeed. To ensure transparency, the Legislature should require school districts to annually report to the state the amount of LCFF dollars used for disadvantaged students and the programs/services these funds supported. This information could be used to leverage districts’ best practices statewide as well as help the Legislature fulfill its responsibility for providing all California students access to a quality education.
Jonathan Kaplan, a senior policy analyst with the California Budget & Policy Center, has published numerous analyses of California’s education finance system over the past decade, including several specifically on LCFF.
Current realities demand raising base grant
Steve Ward, Clovis Unified
The principles on which the Local Control Funding Formula is based are solid. However, the LCFF formula has a major flaw because it doesn’t include enough base funding to address basic funding needs of our schools.
Remember that the LCFF was created with a goal to restore school districts to funding levels that existed in 2008. Yet, in the past 10 years, schools have been hit with sharp increases in new and ongoing “must fund” costs that are consuming base grant dollars at an unsustainable rate.
Costs to fund new CalSTRS/CalPERS contributions and services for children with disabilities, alone, will consume every dollar of this year’s allocation for the LCFF. It’s easy to understand why districts are deficit spending and/or making cuts across their budgets.
This is also why our California School Funding Coalition and its school district members are working to increase the Base Grant Target to reflect the reality of education expenses in our state.
Steve Ward is legislative analyst for Clovis Unified School District, California's 16th largest district with 41,000 students.
Too little money and too many priorities.
Arun Ramanathan, Pivot Learning Partners
The Local Control Funding Formula isn’t the problem. The problem is too little money and too many priorities. We are caught in a trap between resources and ambition. Schools and teachers are being asked to achieve a wish list of initiatives aligned with way too many state and local goals. Meanwhile, the funding necessary to achieve those initiatives is being steadily squeezed by pensions, health care, salaries and other expenses. As a result, school systems are going into a fiscal crisis when the state education budget has never been better.
The solution isn’t fiscal transparency, tweaking the formula, continuous improvement or pumping a bunch of new money (from where?) into the base. It’s prioritizing and making tough political choices. What are the very few things we expect our schools and teachers to do well? Where do we find the money to fund them? How do we reform ballooning district and state costs? Otherwise, LCFF or no LCFF, we are in deep trouble.
Arun Ramanathan is the CEO of Pivot Learning Partners, an Oakland-based nonprofit supporting California school districts in their efforts to improve college and career readiness.
Justice demands better tracking of funds
Shirley Weber, Assemblywoman, D-San Diego
It’s no secret what my position is on the Local Control Funding Formula. It’s fine in theory, but we need a clear accountability system that allows parents and the rest of us to understand how schools are performing. We also need accountability and transparency for the funding we set aside for disadvantaged students. Lawmakers allocate these funds, so we need an answer to whether they are actually used to help children achieve. I was on a school board for eight years; I’ve seen how loopholes in funding can be a temptation for administrators and a hazard to the needs of students.
In his 2013 State of the State address, Gov. Brown said “equal treatment for children in unequal situations is not justice.” That’s absolutely true. And it’s also true, practically speaking, that justice requires we track funding intended to help these disadvantaged students so they don’t continue to be sacrificed to the misguided priorities — or mismanagement — of adults.
Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego,) is a current member of the Assembly committees on Education and Higher Education and served as a member and president of the San Diego Unified School District Board of Trustees.
Adopt meaningful standards for parent engagement
Mary Perry, California State PTA
Parent Engagement — Priority #3 under the Local Control Funding Formula — is critical to student success and stands apart from the state requirements for parent input into LCAPs. Yet the accountability expectations for Priority #3 are frankly anemic.
The state’s weak guidance for this Local Indicator on the Dashboard means a district can label the state standards “Met” by inviting parents to a meeting and counting how many attend. Even more concerning, parents have little leverage for holding districts and schools accountable for the kind of inclusive and strategic engagement that supports better student outcomes. A robust parent survey should be the minimum requirement because it at least provides useful information. But California needs to go further, following the lead of other states and adopting meaningful standards for parent engagement. Those standards would serve as a framework for local actions that truly support parent engagement as the essential school improvement strategy that it is.
Mary Perry, vice president for education for the California State PTA, has spent more than two decades as an education researcher, writer and advocate. She also served including serving as EdSource deputy director until 2011.
Simplify the onerous, compliance-driven LCAP
Carl Cohn, CA Collaborative for Educational Excellence
At a recent convening of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, designed to listen to both county and local district superintendents, it was clear to me that simplifying the LCAP has to be a top priority in terms of needed change. It is shocking to hear that one large urban district now has a 600-page document. I can’t image the staff time and resources needed to generate such a monstrosity.
In addition, I was surprised to hear that the number of school districts in which the superintendent is also the school principal is approaching 300. That means that valuable time of administrators in our rural and geographically isolated districts is taken away from helping genuinely vulnerable students to produce a new compliance document that no one but county office of education bureaucrats will read.
Students of educational policy-making are often surprised by the phenomenon of the unintended consequences of historic policy changes. In this case, we wanted to move away from state compliance, but have seemingly generated a new onerous compliance exercise at a different level of government.
CCEE stands ready to sit down with the advocacy and civil rights community to talk about a new LCAP document that would be usable and simple in capturing a local story about new ways to describe how money is spent and how important stakeholders are engaged — the two most important features of LCFF/LCAP that make it an historic and important change.
Carl Cohn is executive director of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, a new state agency partnering in school improvement under the state's new accountability system.
Local control is myth without more base funding
Edgar Zazueta, Association of California School Administrators
I continue to believe that the Local Control Funding Formula was the most important statewide policy change in a generation. The principle of providing educators closest to the students greater control over resources and focusing services on those learners with the greatest needs was a monumental move by our state’s policy makers.
With that said, the new system addressed distribution but did nothing for funding adequacy. It is clear from talking to school officials from around the state that the LCFF base grant needs to be revisited and promptly increased for all school districts. The promise of LCFF will not be realized and local control becomes a myth unless we do something to address the fiscal realities and growing liabilities our schools are facing in California. Focusing attention to increasing the base grant is the best way to accomplish this in the immediate future.
Edgar Zazueta is the senior director of policy and government relations for the Association of California School Administrators, which represents the interests of superintendents and administrators.
Focus on district innovation
Ryan Smith, The Education Trust–West
Enacting the Local Control Funding Formula was the right move for California. Since its passage, community engagement has increased and district funding has become more equitable. However, our research and that of others show that vulnerable students still have fewer opportunities to learn, and their achievement is low and barely improving.
Now, we must better equip districts to change the way they resource their highest need schools and support struggling and historically underserved students. In an ever-tight budget environment, this means improving and innovating services, not just adding new programs. This includes better professional development for educators, more opportunities to learn from districts getting results and moving away from compliance-based activities to capacity building so that parents can more effectively engage in the process. Getting there will demand that schools and districts have the right leaders, and that the state and its partners provide them and their teams deep support and development.
It is possible to both support LCFF and believe we should improve it. The work of equity is not a one and done approach — it takes sustained and reflective engagement to implement equitable policies with fidelity.
Ryan Smith is executive director of The Education Trust–West, a nonprofit based in Oakland that advocates for California students, particularly those of color and living in poverty.
LCAP process can and must do better
Eric Heins, California Teachers Association
Educators believe the historic Local Control Funding Formula is working and is continually becoming more effective year by year. Our communities are benefiting from its success in getting more equity in education funding; money is being targeted to help English learners, foster kids and low-income students who need it the most. Better funding distribution helps all students as districts can better recruit and retain the educators they need. What’s more, local parents are now helping to prioritize education spending through the Local Control and Accountability Plan the LCFF requires each district to submit and follow.
This LCAP process is still in its early development, but has great potential. It’s one area the state can and must do better. The LCAP promise will make public schools even more accountable to the neighborhoods they serve. Combined with the new California School Dashboard that uses multiple measures to assess school progress, the evolving LCFF is critical. Providing extra support for disadvantaged students always helps the entire school system thrive.
Eric Heins is president of the California Teachers Association, the state’s largest professional employee organization, with 325,000 members.
Adequately fund the base to protect supplemental funds
Karen Monroe, Alameda County Office of Education
As county superintendent, I support, review and approve or disapprove LCAPs. The Local Control Funding Formula’s focus on local control, resources to students in greatest need and spending flexibility make good sense, and, as this policy has met on-the-ground reality, we have learned a lot https://www.acoe.org/Page/342. Initially, new dollars meant the fiscal and programmatic needs deferred during the recession were reprioritized. But today, many districts are having to pull back from these investments as they face the rising cost of retirement, student services and living in the Bay Area. Protecting funding for the students who need it most during times of fiscal uncertainty is a real concern.
The notion that we can simply move around the same limited dollars to meet expanding needs is flawed. There is a reason California is 46th in the country in per- pupil funding. Until we adequately fund the base under LCFF, the question of how best to protect supplemental and concentration funds will continue to be front and center.
L. Karen Monroe, Alameda County’s Superintendent of Schools, was elected by the voters in November 2014 to lead the educational programs, services and initiatives at the Alameda County Office of Education.
More transparency will reveal funding needs
Liz Guillen, Public Advocates
The promise of equity through supplemental and concentration grants will never be realized until the base grant is adequate to cover a base educational program. This includes delivering on the eight state priorities, including Common Core and CalSTRS obligations. Only then will districts be free of pressures to siphon supplemental and concentration funds to support CalSTRS and other base services.V
Meanwhile, districts have missed the opportunity to use the Local Control Funding Formula’s transparency to demonstrate the inadequacy problem. If base and supplemental and concentration spending were accurately revealed, policymakers would be confronted by the need to increase funding to deliver on LCFF’s promises.V
Also, district personnel need the skill and will to engage community stakeholders in the cyclical work of continuous improvement — from LCAP development to Dashboard review to the courageous analyses and local energy needed to fuel systemic change and gap-closing. This is not yet happening. LCFF’s theory of change demands that school districts engage communities fully. V
Liz Guillen is the director of Legislative & Community Affairs at Public Advocates, a California civil rights legal organization.
LCFF faces a new set of challenges
Ben Allen, Senator, D-Santa Monica
The Local Control Funding Formula has been transformative in many ways. For the first time, it targeted additional state resources to the students who need the most help; it unshackled school districts from the cumbersome bureaucracy of categorical spending, and it placed decision-making about how to spend their dollars at the local level where it belongs. For all of these positive changes, the LCFF has been a success.
But it is not a perfect system and it has spawned a new set of challenges. First, everyone agrees that the base funding on which the LCFF is built needs to be increased for all districts. School districts are not operating in a static environment. Their costs are increasing on a number of fronts, such as increased payments into the teachers’ retirement system and the growing expense of special education. These necessary expenditures erode the value of the dollars flowing through LCFF, and the state must not be blind to them. In the upcoming legislative session, the Senate Education Committee will be exploring ways to address these challenges so that the LCFF can achieve its full potential.
Sen. Ben Allen , D-Santa Monica, chairs the Senate Education Committee and is a former board member and president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
Switch to local control remains unfinished, inequitable
Eric Premack, Charter Schools Development Center
The Local Control Funding Formula is a great step forward, enabling school leaders to focus on students rather than red tape and compliance. The switch to local control, however, remains unfinished and inequitable. LCFF left the three most inequitable state funding programs untouched. Funding for the archaic Home-to-School Transportation Grant and the Targeted Instructional Improvement Grant, which primarily benefits a few influential large districts, should be equalized and folded into the LCFF Base Grant. Special education funding should also be incorporated in to LCFF, with appropriate weighting for schools and districts with unusually high numbers of high-cost special needs students.
Additional funding currently provided to districts with high concentrations of low-income, English learner and foster youth should be equalized to provide an equal and larger supplement for all such high-need students since neither theory nor practice indicates a need for concentration funds. Finally, we should encourage the federal government to follow California’s lead and similarly streamline and block grant the funds it provides to K-12 schools.
Eric Premack is the executive director of the nonprofit Charter Schools Development Center, based in Sacramento, and an architect of the Charter School General-Purpose and Categorical Block Grant funding system, arguably the precursor to LCFF.
Require better accounting for LCFF funding
Stephen McMahon, San Jose Unified
The San José Unified School District supports the Local Control Funding Formula. LCFF aligns with our Equity Policy and the work we do. Gov. Jerry Brown and his team deserve tremendous credit for leading positive change to California’s public education system.
Going forward, the public would benefit from being able to readily know LCFF funding by category. San José Unified breaks out our base grant, supplemental grant and concentration grant so that our community can hold us accountable to using those resources appropriately. This transparency should be a requirement for all school districts and could be accomplished through the state’s Standardized Account Code Structure, or SACS. This simple change would make conversations about the benefits to students of supplemental and concentration grants more effective. It is challenging to assess the return on investment when the amount of the investment is not reported.
Stephen McMahon is deputy superintendent of Santa Clara County’s largest school district, San José Unified.
A weak base diminishes funding equity
Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach
The overarching purposes of the Local Control Funding Formula are to improve student outcomes across the board and reduce the achievement gap through a more equitable distribution of resources. Any changes to the LCFF must be considered with these goals in mind. Aside from the question of whether total LCFF funding is sufficient to achieve these goals, we need to revisit the distribution of funds within the formula among its base, supplemental and concentration factor components.
Districts across the state are reporting that base funding is being stretched very thin, making it increasingly difficult to sustain base programs. Although it may sound counter-intuitive, underfunding the base will make programs supported by supplemental/concentration factor funding less effective. The effectiveness of programs to "increase or improve" for unduplicated count students is diminished if those programs are layered over an inadequate or weak base.
Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell , D-Long Beach, brings more than 20 years of teaching experience to the State Assembly, where he represents the 70th District of California and serves as chairman of the Assembly Education Committee.
Seek a waiver from Washington to stay true to LCFF
David Plank, Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE)
Trying to identify “the bottom 5 percent” of schools is a fool’s errand. Ranking schools on a uniform scale from “best” to “worst” is inevitably arbitrary and capricious, and it runs counter to the logic of the Local Control Funding Formula, which starts from the premise that schools should be evaluated on multiple measures. Approximately 100 California schools do everything badly, and these schools need to be taken over or shut down. But most schools are good at some things and bad at others. To improve they need tailored assistance from the state (California Department of Education, California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, county offices of education) that builds on their strengths and addresses their weaknesses.
In the long run the state’s new leaders must invest the resources necessary for these agencies to support schools effectively. In the short run, though, they should seek a waiver from Washington to ensure that senselessly focusing on an arbitrary target does not unravel the fabric of LCFF.
David N. Plank is a research professor in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University, and executive director of Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), an independent, non-partisan research center based at Stanford University, the University of Southern California and the University of California – Davis.
More fully report services, spending for English learners
Karen Cadiero-Kaplan, San Diego State University
In light of the progress made with the Local Control Funding Formula and the LCAP template, there are two areas that are important to English learners. First, the need to better report how the district-wide services and school site allocations are being directed to specific supports for English learners. In a review of LCAPs, English learner data is seldom cited as informing the LCAP goals specific to English learners, and the use of English learner indicators appears weak as a component of overall LCAP accountability. So while districts are required to use and report data specific to English learners, seldom are the "needs" connected directly to "programming and supports" that specifically address student academic achievement and language development.
ISecond, with the passage of Proposition 58 and the increase in dual language programs across the state, it is critical to include in the state accountability system an assessment for primary language, in particular Spanish language assessments. This is a critical area that needs to be discussed in this era of increased demand for biliteracy.
ILCFF and the LCAP have provided a key tool and mechanism for funding that should continue and can only improve with a continued commitment to improve transparency and processes for accountability for all students.
IKaren Cadiero-Kapan is professor emeritus at the Department of Dual Language & English Learner Education, San Diego State University.
Fully embrace multiple measures of achievement
Christopher Steinhauser, Long Beach Unified School District
Across the CORE Districts, our system of shared data provides a comprehensive view of challenges, and we believe the state can learn more from our approach. While all subgroups of students have shown improvement under the Local Control Funding Formula, much more work is needed to close achievement gaps for students of color. Across our CORE Districts, we are using our data to help us improve teaching and learning by making the wisest use of resources.
The state has a role to play here, too. We believe the state should more fully embrace the notion of using multiple measures of achievement. For Long Beach specifically, one example of a needed policy change involves state testing for 11th grade. The state should support Long Beach’s efforts to provide the SAT for all high school students, as alternative to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.
Christopher Steinhauser is a board member of the CORE Districts, a data and school district improvement collaborative, and has served as superintendent of the Long Beach Unified School District since 2002.
Track LCFF spending at the school level
Samantha Tran, Children Now
Investing in equity and providing flexibility through the Local Control Funding Formula is the right approach and will allow local communities to best meet the needs of their students. However, the state cannot abdicate its responsibility to shine a light on closing achievement gaps and providing additional support to California’s most vulnerable students.
The state must fulfill the promise of LCFF and improve implementation by:
• Integrating key elements into the California School Dashboard, including student growth, annual climate surveys (students, teachers and parents), measuring college and career readiness (especially career readiness) and the inclusion of alternative education students, as well as clearly showing if gaps in achievement are closing or not.
• More effectively tracking how LCFF dollars are spent at the local level to see that funds are used to support our most vulnerable kids.
• Ensuring an effective system of support is in place statewide that starts by assessing the local school and district context first and then delivers locally tailored, systemic capacity building.
Samantha Dobbins Tran is senior managing director of education policy for Children Now, an Oakland-based nonprofit advocacy organization.
Simplify and unburden the LCAP
Joel Knudson, California Collaborative on District Reform
The Local Control Funding Formula rightly focuses on equity and local control and represents a vast improvement over California’s previous approach to resource allocation. However, the LCAP as enacted through the current required template detracts from these goals by overburdening districts, reinforcing compliance thinking, fostering fragmentation of district approaches into discrete programs with easily identifiable funding streams and producing massive documents that are indecipherable to most stakeholders.
We offer two suggestions for improvement. First, recognize that a single document cannot meet all the purposes currently placed on the LCAP. Allow districts flexibility to develop more locally responsive means of achieving and demonstrating those purposes, with approval based on the quality and transparency of the plan rather than compliance to a prescribed format.
Second, focus on building local capacity for strategic budgeting that truly fosters equity, coherence and continuous improvement. Identifying and highlighting strong exemplars in the state could be a start.
Joel Knudson is a senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research and deputy director of the California Collaborative on District Reform. Jennifer O’Day, who co-wrote this article, is an Institute Fellow at the American Institutes for Research and chair of the California Collaborative on District Reform.
Invest in student and parent engagement
Taryn Ishida, Californians for Justice
Californians for Justice believes the Local Control Funding Formula is healing deep wounds in education caused by decades of underfunding low-income students of color.
For LCFF to fulfill its bold vision for equity, our legislators and governor must significantly fund and build the capacity of districts and schools to: a) build powerful vehicles of student and parent voice in LCFF engagement, which is the cornerstone of ‘local control’, and b) utilize tools like annual school climate surveys to improve relationships, empowerment, conditions and safety. All of which are foundational to learning and equity.
When we invest in the capacity of school districts to have meaningful student and parent engagement in LCFF and positive school climates, solutions to improve outcomes for low-income students of color are impactful and equitable because they are rooted in the true needs of students.
Taryn Ishida is the executive director at Californians for Justice, a statewide, student-led grassroots organization that works for racial justice.
Peg funding for LCFF to a national standard. CEO and executive director,
Vernon Billy, California School Boards Association
In order for the Local Control Funding Formula to succeed, the state must increase the size of the funding pie, not just redistribute revenue that has California ranked 41st nationally in per-pupil funding. Despite improvements under LCFF, state funding for some districts and county offices of education has just returned to the pre-recession levels of 2007. Yet, in nearly all communities, gains are being eroded by rising health care, pensions, transportation and utility costs that threaten educational programs.
The fact is, LCFF cannot live up to its promise to help the state’s neediest children and close opportunity and achievement gaps if the school system as a whole is dramatically underfunded. One of LCFF’s major flaws is that its funding levels are not pegged to a standard — like the national average — that would compensate for increasing legacy costs. As a result, K-12 school funding has not substantially increased, on an inflation-adjusted basis, for more than a decade. LCFF is a step in the right direction philosophically, but it receives an incomplete grade in practical terms.
Vernon M. Billy is CEO and executive director of the California School Boards Association, representing elected officials who govern public school districts and county offices of education.
Five Stanzas on LCFF
Jeff Camp, Ed100.org
They said that it could not be done.
That enemies would kill or stun
or maim the plan. That Jerry Brown's
too-sober logic, nodding frowns
and politics could never make
a fairer funding system take.
They said these things -- but they were wrong.
The moment, right for measures strong
enough to make a biggish change
proved adequate to flip the strange
old Sacramento-centered rules
and let each district run its schools.
But does this system meet its goals
for equity throughout the schools?
Accounting systems aren't set up
to track the dollars close enough
to know if money really goes
toward help for kids who need it most;
This "local" system hasn't set
a way to handle special ed;
The data systems that we need
still remain a distant dream;
and total funding hasn’t grown
so teachers to afford their homes.
Six million students all await
A better-gilded Golden State
where kids have homes, and high-tech tools
support 10,000 networked schools.
Brown has led a useful start
toward making fairer funding smart.
Progress? Yes. But only some.
There's still plenty to be done.
Jeff Camp is the founder and primary writer for Ed100.org, which demystifies the California education system one brief lesson at a time.