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California is fast approaching the September 18 deadline to submit its draft Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan to the federal government. This plan – essentially a grant application – allows California to makes its case for utilizing federal funds to assist low-income students across the state.

Michael Kirst

Our plan meets the federal government’s requirements while affirming California’s commitment to local control that allows teachers, principals and superintendents to meet the needs of our diverse students.

However, it is shortsighted to judge California’s efforts to improve outcomes for all students by the draft plan alone. California has a much bigger plan: the Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF, which has been developed over years with input from thousands of Californians and youth advocates. The Local Control Funding Formula empowers parents, students, teachers and community members to recognize inequities and develop and implement programs that meet the needs of all students.

When fully implemented, LCFF will provide an extra $10.1 billion annually in state funds to schools that serve low-income students, English language learners and foster youth – more than four times the federal funds covered by the Every Student Succeeds Act.

California’s new accountability system – reflected in the online California School Dashboard – was in the works before the new federal law was even under consideration by Congress. The Dashboard includes an Equity Report, where users can see how student groups within a district perform on a variety of measures, including test scores, graduation rates, suspension rates and English language development. New indicators will come online within the next year.

The accountability provisions under state law have a clear equity focus, ensuring districts receive additional support if they have one or more student group struggling across more than one indicator.

Beginning in the fall, the Local Control Funding Formula requires county offices of education to provide additional support to districts – support tailored to address their specific needs – based on the performance of student groups, including ethnic and racial groups, low-income students, English language learners, foster youth and students with disabilities. By contrast, schools will not be identified for support under ESSA until the 2018-19 school year with intensive interventions coming much later.

The Local Control Funding Formula is driving positive change in California. Graduation rates are up, suspension rates are down and college eligibility rates are at an all-time high. The ESSA plan gives us an opportunity to bring federal and state law into alignment while staying true to our commitment to equity and local control. The plan gives California maximum flexibility to change the Dashboard based on user feedback – without having to go back and ask the federal government for permission.

We have a lot of work ahead of us in order to continue California’s education overhaul. Improving outcomes for all students will depend on new ideas coming from many voices and empowering local communities to work together. We will continue to stay the course with LCFF while also meeting ESSA requirements so we have the flexibility to move forward with a public education system that is truly Californian, by design.

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Michael Kirst is President of the California State Board of Education and Professor Emeritus of Education at Stanford University.

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