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In one of the largest new appropriations in the state budget, school districts will receive $300 million in 2018-19 to help improve the performance of students with the lowest standardized test scores. That will equal about $2,000 apiece for the estimated 146,000 students designated for the funding.

The one-time money is aimed at a group of students who had been overlooked under the Local Control Funding Formula, the main source of general purpose funding for school districts. The formula targets additional dollars to English learners and low-income, foster and migrant children.

The Low-Performing Students Block Grant will reach low-performing students who don’t fit under any of those categories, which is about 4 percent of the 3.2 million students tested in California. Students with disabilities will be excluded, since they already get extra money from another source of state funding. School districts will have considerable flexibility with the funding, which they can spend over the next three years.

The funding represents a compromise that Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, worked out with Gov. Jerry Brown and his top administrators in the days leading up the Legislature’s passage last week of the 2018-19 budget. Weber had proposed, in Assembly Bill 2635, adding more ongoing money to the funding formula to target students in the lowest-performing ethnic or racial group. That initially would have been African-American students, based on last year’s scores on the Smarter Balanced tests in math and English language arts. The Assembly passed the bill 76-0 and it was pending in the Senate when it emerged — and was changed — in budget negotiations.

The funding instead will be a one-time appropriation and apply to all students, regardless of race or ethnicity, who score at the lowest of four levels on both math and English language arts tests, or a combination of the lowest level and next-to-lowest level.

This approach averts a potential conflict with Proposition 209 that was raised in an analysis by the California Department of Finance. That 1996 voter initiative prohibits granting “preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”

About 12,000 of the estimated 146,000 students covered by the new funding will be African-Americans, Weber said. Weber may still pursue her bill, which would encompass a higher number of African-American children, in the future. A professor emeritus of Africana studies at San Diego State University and former board member of the San Diego Unified School District, Weber said the Legislature needs to address the causes of the persistent underperformance of African-American children as a group, whether due to low expectations or racism in the education system. Only 31 percent of black students meet grade level standards in English language arts, compared with the state average of 49 percent; 19 percent meet grade-level standards in math — half of the state average. The disparity, known as the achievement gap, is also wide between non-low-income African-American students and non-low-income whites and Asians.

“I would welcome a lawsuit over meeting the needs of black kids. Prop. 209 is a straw man argument,” she said.

For now, she said she is satisfied there is money for low-achieving students who haven’t been getting extra funding — a position she said she advocated when the Local Control Funding Formula was first debated.

Under the language of the budget bill, districts must spend the money to help close achievement gaps for low-income children and others who draw money under the funding formula. But otherwise districts will have flexibility. For a small district with few students, there might be individualized help, like tutoring. A district with a larger concentration of students might use the funding for an early grades math initiative or for a behavior intervention program in middle school.

“We don’t want to take authority away from schools whether to focus on individuals or a larger problem,” Weber said.

What Weber will get in return will be a tighter accounting for how the money is spent. In exchange for the new money, districts must justify their expenditures in a plan submitted to the state superintendent of public instruction next year and then report back on the results by 2021. The California Department of Education will then report to the Legislature on effective uses of the money.

Under the Local Control Funding Formula, districts choose how to spend money on low-performing areas, whether test scores, suspension rates or gaps in college readiness, discuss the ideas and improvement goals in community meetings and commit to them in a Local Control and Accountability Plan — a planning document that is updated annually.

“We need an honest conversation about local control and whether it is working,” Weber said. “We gave districts authority but did not set clear expectations.”

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  1. Brian Aherne 5 months ago5 months ago

    I wonder if added funding for better performing students might be more productive and an even bigger bang for the tax buck. Very little seems to improve the low performers other than parents and more parent involvement, plus teachers and the occasional school atmosphere.

  2. Sharla Gish 5 months ago5 months ago

    Not to change subjects, but I'm wondering where the separate categorical grant money for students with disabilities is going because it certainly isn't helping my son in improving his state test scores. His state test scores have been "standard not met" for ELA/Literacy and Math for the last six years minus "standard nearly met" in the last report. An investigation into special education and where the money really goes would be very interesting. Read More

    Not to change subjects, but I’m wondering where the separate categorical grant money for students with disabilities is going because it certainly isn’t helping my son in improving his state test scores. His state test scores have been “standard not met” for ELA/Literacy and Math for the last six years minus “standard nearly met” in the last report. An investigation into special education and where the money really goes would be very interesting.

  3. Nancy Krop 5 months ago5 months ago

    Thank you, for this article on these additional funds for low performing students. While any additional funding is sorely needed, so much more is needed. 1/3 of CA's students do not graduate high school, in a state that still spends less per student than the national average (cost of living adjusted). These high school dropouts cost us dearly in unemployment, low taxable earnings, homelessness and crime (let alone the personal cost to each student). The … Read More

    Thank you, for this article on these additional funds for low performing students. While any additional funding is sorely needed, so much more is needed. 1/3 of CA’s students do not graduate high school, in a state that still spends less per student than the national average (cost of living adjusted).

    These high school dropouts cost us dearly in unemployment, low taxable earnings, homelessness and crime (let alone the personal cost to each student).

    The cost of a year in prison is about seven times the cost of education (and even higher in CA). Since CA schools dropped from the top 10 in funding and performance (to ranking near bottom), we’ve trebled our prison expenditures and built 20 more prisons to house these high school dropouts.

    Please speak up now to increase investment in CA K-12 education. AB 2808, supported by the CA PTA, to increase the LCFF base grant, is now in the CA Senate Education Committee.

    You can support AB 2808 – within seconds – on the free Click My Cause Two-Tap App. When the bill is up for vote in the state legislature, a PTA Council will send you a mobile alert. Then, Tap 1: open alert, Tap 2: message Sacramento decision-makers. https://clickmycause.com/download/

  4. Danielle Kelley 5 months ago5 months ago

    Thank you for opening our eyes regarding educational funding. That being stated, I question if spending $300 million on another "program" is effective. Teachers in California are gearing up to strike due to the state failing to provide … Read More

    Thank you for opening our eyes regarding educational funding. That being stated, I question if spending $300 million on another “program” is effective. Teachers in California are gearing up to strike due to the state failing to provide basic incentives to remain in the classroom. That money should have been available in an innovation grant, pay for teacher trainings, provide teachers with school supply money, or placed in a pot to provide a well needed cost of living raise.

    California does not need another program targeting certain kids. That is discrimination. California is graduating students unable to read, write critically, or think logically at the master’s level due to the movement of “programs” instead of focusing on supporting the teacher in the classroom to successfully do their job.

  5. MV 5 months ago5 months ago

    Hello John. Thank you for the quality of your message explaining how the low performing student block grant evolved. Will allocations be awarded to districts via a funding formula? "Considerable flexibility" of $300 million given for local control to improve learning for CA's most challenged learners in districts that are already not showing success with this student population is quite risky. What measures are in place to ensure these funds will be used for their targeted … Read More

    Hello John. Thank you for the quality of your message explaining how the low performing student block grant evolved. Will allocations be awarded to districts via a funding formula?
    “Considerable flexibility” of $300 million given for local control to improve learning for CA’s most challenged learners in districts that are already not showing success with this student population is quite risky. What measures are in place to ensure these funds will be used for their targeted purpose besides justification sent to the State Superintendent, reporting outcomes 3 years later, and a line-item in a district’s LCAP? Just as you would not take financial advice from someone who has declared bankruptcy, the same is true for asking a district who repeatedly failed to improve learning to identify a problem of practice and implement an action plan to improve it.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 5 months ago5 months ago

      MV: The trailer bill does not require the kind of oversight that you are seeking. The requirement that districts at least detail for the state superintendent what they plan to do with this new money is a departure from the LCAP, which is a locally approved document that is reviewed by the county office of education without involvement of the state. Under the Local Control Funding Formula, districts in which multiple student groups fail to … Read More

      MV: The trailer bill does not require the kind of oversight that you are seeking. The requirement that districts at least detail for the state superintendent what they plan to do with this new money is a departure from the LCAP, which is a locally approved document that is reviewed by the county office of education without involvement of the state.

      Under the Local Control Funding Formula, districts in which multiple student groups fail to improve for three out of four years, based on results on the state dashboard, may be subject to tighter supervision by the county office or the state superintendent. We’re about to enter the second year of that process. The extent to which poorly performing districts reach out for help on their own, before “judgment day,” will be a critical measure of whether local control is working.

  6. Kari 5 months ago5 months ago

    So, how do individual districts determine who is eligible for this $2,000 per student grant? A student would have to fall in the bottom 4% of state testing to qualify? Our district scores are abysmal, but there is never money in the budget to support these under-served, unidentified and unsupported children. This needs to be a priority! Thank you!!

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 5 months ago5 months ago

      Kari: There are criteria that, when applied, equal 4 percent of students, and the numbers of students will vary by district. To qualify, a student needs to have scored at Level 1 (below standards) on both math and English language arts, on either math or Language Arts and no higher than Level 2 on the other, or did so poorly that the student didn't register a score. The student also cannot already qualify for a … Read More

      Kari: There are criteria that, when applied, equal 4 percent of students, and the numbers of students will vary by district.

      To qualify, a student needs to have scored at Level 1 (below standards) on both math and English language arts, on either math or Language Arts and no higher than Level 2 on the other, or did so poorly that the student didn’t register a score.

      The student also cannot already qualify for a supplemental grant under the Local Control Funding Formula: in other words, not be a low-income student (or at least didn’t register for free/reduced lunch), an English learner or a homeless or foster child. And students with disabilities are excluded, because they already get a state categorical grant.

      The grant is for lowest scorers who don’t draw funding under other criteria for LCFF. Districts should be able to figure that out, I am told.

  7. Gail Monohon 5 months ago5 months ago

    How will this Low-Performing Students Block Grant “reach” low-performing students? What will change at the point where learning occurs: an interaction involving a student, an instructor, and curriculum (information/skill). When dollars are simply moved about on paper, when administrators attend costly conferences, when salaries are raised, how does this improve the outcome for the struggling student? Districts make themselves look good in their LCAPS, but precisely how will this additional funding change … Read More

    How will this Low-Performing Students Block Grant “reach” low-performing students? What will change at the point where learning occurs: an interaction involving a student, an instructor, and curriculum (information/skill). When dollars are simply moved about on paper, when administrators attend costly conferences, when salaries are raised, how does this improve the outcome for the struggling student? Districts make themselves look good in their LCAPS, but precisely how will this additional funding change outcomes for targeted students? Until all stakeholder groups are genuinely engaged in finding answers and supporting needed changes in education, just adding dollars will probably not result in better learning for many of our neediest students.

  8. mr isaac 5 months ago5 months ago

    With 350,000 black students (http://www.ed-data.org/state/CA) , how did the legislators decide that only 12,000 - or 3 percent - needed extra funding to "close the black achievement gap?" How can they say 81% - or 280,000 - blacks are below standard in math, but only 12,000 get extra money? Clearly, this Block Grant needs a couple of more zeroes. Maybe then California can crawl from the bottom of state per pupil … Read More

    With 350,000 black students (http://www.ed-data.org/state/CA) , how did the legislators decide that only 12,000 – or 3 percent – needed extra funding to “close the black achievement gap?” How can they say 81% – or 280,000 – blacks are below standard in math, but only 12,000 get extra money? Clearly, this Block Grant needs a couple of more zeroes. Maybe then California can crawl from the bottom of state per pupil spending.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 5 months ago5 months ago

      Mr. Isaac, Even Weber's original bill, Assembly Bill 2635, would have provided extra money for only about 90,000 black students -- those who don't don't already qualify for additional funding under the Local Control Funding Formula as low-income or foster children. The $300 million funding reflects a compromise she negotiated with Gov. Brown, in part because of concerns over Prop. 209. So the funding is going to all students, regardless of race or ethnicity, who … Read More

      Mr. Isaac,
      Even Weber’s original bill, Assembly Bill 2635, would have provided extra money for only about 90,000 black students — those who don’t don’t already qualify for additional funding under the Local Control Funding Formula as low-income or foster children. The $300 million funding reflects a compromise she negotiated with Gov. Brown, in part because of concerns over Prop. 209. So the funding is going to all students, regardless of race or ethnicity, who scored the lowest on standardized tests. Making that funding meaningful — $2,000 extra per kid — determined the number of eligible students, about 146,000 students, including 12,000 black students. They turned out to be the lowest performing 4 percent on the tests.
      As the story mentioned, Weber may return another year to again propose her original idea, targeted to reach African-American children.

      • el 5 months ago5 months ago

        Thanks for that clarification about how the numbers were determined – it’s really helpful to better understand the thinking around it.

  9. ann 5 months ago5 months ago

    It should be a short conversation, “Local Control” enriched district employees and did nothing for students and neither will “one-time monies.” Sorry Ms. Weber, our schools are shot across the state, kids aren’t learning and it gets worse, not better. I actually think you know this.