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Diverting funds intended for California’s high-needs students for other spending “dampens” the potential to significantly close the achievement gap between high-poverty and low-poverty students, new research from the Public Policy Institute of California has found.

School districts on average are directing only 55 cents of every dollar of extra funding from the Local Control Funding Formula to the schools that high-needs students who generate the money attend, research fellow Julien Lafortune concluded in a policy brief and full report.

Lafortune examined school-level financial data reported to the state for all districts with more than 250 students and with more than 10 schools. He was able to do the research using federally mandated school-level data available for the first time.

The “imperfect targeting of resources to high-need students within districts remains a concern,” he wrote, adding that there are big differences among districts in the extent to which they target the additional resources.

The money that didn’t reach the high-needs students wasn’t necessarily “wasted,” he said; instead of being targeted, it was spread evenly among all students across a district.

PPIC’s research also indicates that the funding formula is having a positive impact on improving test scores and college eligibility, particularly in districts that receive the most funding.

The Local Control Funding Formula provides the bulk of the general funding that school districts and charter schools receive from the state. Along with a base grant for all students, it provides “supplemental” money for every high-needs student plus “concentration” funding that sharply increases when they comprise most of the students in a district. Under the funding formula, high-needs students are low-income, foster and homeless students, as well as English learners, who are targeted for additional funding.

As of this year, districts in which targeted students make up at least 60% of enrollment, which is about the statewide average for high-needs students, receive an extra 15% in funding. Districts in which targeted students make up 80% of enrollment receive about a third more in additional funding.

The money is paying off, particularly in the districts with the highest-needs students, Lafortune found, raising tests scores on the Smarter Balanced standardized tests in math and English language arts and enabling more students to meet the course requirements for admission to the California State University and the University of California.

In the highest-need districts — those with 80% or more students targeted with extra funding — the share of students meeting or exceeding standards increased by 10 and 9 percentage points in English language arts and math, respectively, while at lower-need districts, the share increased 4 and 5 points from 2014-15 through 2018-19. Low-income districts narrowed the achievement gap by 6 percentage points in English language arts and 4 percentage points in math.

However, the overall statewide progress in narrowing the gap between all low-income students and non-low-income students was less: only 2.5 percentage points in English language arts and 0.6 percentage points in math.

Lafortune found the same pattern when analyzing the course requirements, known as A to G, for qualifying for admission to the University of California and the California State University. In the decade preceding the enactment of the funding formula in 2013-14, there was no change in the gap in A to G completion rates between low- and non-low-income districts. Since then, the gap between the highest-need districts and the lowest-need districts, with less than 30% of low-income students, narrowed by 9 percentage points. For the districts in between, which received some concentration money, the gap closed only 5 percentage points.

Previous studies of Local Control and Accountability Plans, in which districts lay out annual plans for supplemental and concentration spending, had found some districts had underused or misdirected the money. A state auditor’s analyses of three districts’ spending concluded that the funding formula law “has not ensured that funding is benefiting students as intended.” This year, Gov. Gavin Newsom adopted one of the auditor’s key recommendations, eliminating a loophole that allowed districts to spend leftover money for high-needs students however they wanted the following year.

The money also has been difficult to track in schools with high-needs students. However, through a requirement under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, California for the first time is reporting accurate spending data by school; previously, California calculated teacher salaries, the largest component of school spending, using a districtwide average, not actual salaries. The new mandate is not a complete remedy, since it remains difficult to make spending comparisons among districts. However, it does reveal which high-needs schools are disparately funded.

Lafortune attributes the differences in spending on high-needs students to two issues he raises in the report:

  • Extra funding is intended to fund additional programs and services for high-needs students, but it is funded by district, not by school, giving districts flexibility on where to spend the money;
  • Although districts with the biggest proportions of high-needs students (80% or more of enrollment) get the most concentration funding, many other districts have nearly the same total number of high-needs students yet get considerably less funding. And non-low-income districts that get no concentration funding still contain a quarter of the state’s schools where a majority or more of the students are low-income.

That is all the more reason why the state “must ensure that supplemental and concentration funding is benefiting the students who generate it in a more direct and significant way,” said Samantha Tran, senior managing director of education policy at Children Now, a nonprofit advocacy organization. It appears that the funding formula is working in districts that receive the most funding, “which is great, but there is absolutely more the state needs to do to actually close achievement gaps,” she said.

Lafortune recommends several options to spread the additional funding more evenly. One way would be lowering the threshold for districts to receive concentration funding. Another would be to fund concentration dollars by school instead of by district, ensuring that the money would go to students who generated the extra funding. The challenge with the latter is that it might encourage further segregation — redrawing school boundaries to include larger concentrations of low-income families, Lafortune said.

In a study two years ago, Lafortune documented that districts were using the additional funding to hire counselors and teacher aides for low-income schools, but they also had disproportionate numbers of novice teachers. He once again recommends that the Legislature address this issue.

“Key policies, therefore, should involve additional funding and incentives that allow districts to hire and retain qualified staff in the highest-need schools, especially given teacher shortages around high-demand subjects,” he wrote.

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  1. Former WCCUSD parent 1 day ago1 day ago

    Infuriating. It is time to rethink the local school board governance model. At least in WCCUSD, the board cycles through puppets without any professional knowledge of public education, entirely beholden to voters who skew older, whiter, and more conservative than the students. We need professionals making decisions for the high-needs school districts.

  2. John Affeldt 2 days ago2 days ago

    The positive outcome improvements and gap-closing advances for high-need students under LCFF are to be celebrated. This builds on Rucker Johnson’s Getting Down to Facts II analysis which also found improved outcomes, especially for Black and Brown students. The State needs to maintain and increase its greater spending on equity that began with LCFF. One has to wonder what more and/or more targeted funding could yet lead to. The historic levels of state and federal … Read More

    The positive outcome improvements and gap-closing advances for high-need students under LCFF are to be celebrated. This builds on Rucker Johnson’s Getting Down to Facts II analysis which also found improved outcomes, especially for Black and Brown students. The State needs to maintain and increase its greater spending on equity that began with LCFF. One has to wonder what more and/or more targeted funding could yet lead to. The historic levels of state and federal funding for schools these next few years hopefully will further make the case for how smart, equitable investments can lead to transformative changes.

    It does bear noting that it is not necessarily a failure of LCFF nor a bad result to find that 45% of the supplemental and concentration grant funds were spent on districtwide vs. school-level initiatives. LCFF gives districts the flexibility to invest in districtwide efforts where such may be the better use of funds. Some districtwide investments can disproportionally impact the highest need students and cannot (or should not) be undertaken only on the school-level. Such examples might include adoption of a new EL curriculum, districtwide professional development for teaching English learners or under-performing low-income students, or even—in the exceptional case where a district is suffering from teacher quality issues and under-paying its teachings—on a districtwide salary increase. On the other hand, we have often seen districts use supplemental and concentration funds simply to invest in core operations like common core materials for all students or covering rising pension costs that are neither principally directed toward nor effective in serving high need students as required.

    To further inform policy development, it would be useful for PPIC or other researchers to analyze the comparative benefits of different types of districtwide supplemental and concentration investments as well as how such various initiatives over time affect outcomes as compared to different types of school-level ones. To accomplish this type of analysis would likely require better tracking and accounting of LCFF-supported initiatives. Enabling that better understanding of how LCFF is working and could function more effectively, hopefully, is something our state policymakers are interested in.

  3. JACK 3 days ago3 days ago

    One of the central issues associated with LCFF funding is the increased autonomy districts have been provided with respect to allocation of resources. While in theory this is an appealing approach, it also is high risk - especially in districts where student achievement is low. Putting such high stakes decision making in the hands of local boards is a gamble, with poor and underachieving students and their families the most victimized by … Read More

    One of the central issues associated with LCFF funding is the increased autonomy districts have been provided with respect to allocation of resources. While in theory this is an appealing approach, it also is high risk – especially in districts where student achievement is low. Putting such high stakes decision making in the hands of local boards is a gamble, with poor and underachieving students and their families the most victimized by local autonomy. It is time for the legislature to rethink the state’s approach to funding high needs students.

  4. VernonNickersonSchoolcoach 4 days ago4 days ago

    A graduate school mentor who became a friend is fondly remembered for saying, "Any problem involving money is not a problem." Special Education, across the spectrum of cognitive and or physical abilities has always been the shunned stepchild victimized by intentional economic segregation and neglect. Yet, in my 48 years of experience, right through transitioning from brick-and-mortar to the virtual classroom, it is where the most teaching and learning happens on a daily basis. It … Read More

    A graduate school mentor who became a friend is fondly remembered for saying, “Any problem involving money is not a problem.” Special Education, across the spectrum of cognitive and or physical abilities has always been the shunned stepchild victimized by intentional economic segregation and neglect. Yet, in my 48 years of experience, right through transitioning from brick-and-mortar to the virtual classroom, it is where the most teaching and learning happens on a daily basis. It demands educator’s complete attention. Often you are managing a team of professionals and building working rapport with parents and an assortment of therapy providers and hoping that different agendas mesh to always benefit the students.

    Yes, there may be smaller class sizes, but every day lives and futures literally are at stake.The work is not glamorous or sexy, only the committed are called to these classrooms. That being said, the USA prints its own currency. Fund all USA public schools according to needs, not politics or OPTICS/ number of likes/ influencers, etc.

  5. SD Parent 1 week ago1 week ago

    I'm very glad to finally see someone do analysis on LCFF spending and student outcomes. I couldn't find Appendix A to know how the analysis was done, but a few things come to mind: • Since federal funding is included in some of the tables, the per pupil funding in different districts and especially the allocations school sites is not just tied to LCFF concentration grant funding but is also tied to federal funding (particularly for … Read More

    I’m very glad to finally see someone do analysis on LCFF spending and student outcomes. I couldn’t find Appendix A to know how the analysis was done, but a few things come to mind:

    • Since federal funding is included in some of the tables, the per pupil funding in different districts and especially the allocations school sites is not just tied to LCFF concentration grant funding but is also tied to federal funding (particularly for Title I, but also Title III).
    • Given the vast differences in enrollment in school districts, I have some concern about drawing conclusions with “averages.” For example, Los Angeles Unified enrolls nearly 10% of all students in the state, and at 81% unduplicated count (comprising nearly 480,000 students) presumably skews any “average” calculated for school districts with >80% unduplicated count. Ditto for any calculation using that district’s pool of data.
    • Given that vast differences in enrollment between school districts, has there been any effort to determine the effectiveness of supplemental and concentration grant funding in larger (enrollment) versus smaller districts, the latter providing much more effective opportunities for “local control”? (Most parents in large school districts do not believe they have a meaningful voice.)
    • Has there been any analysis of the impact of regional cost in per-pupil funding in school districts and at school sites? One could envision that regional, high housing costs could put pressure to increase personnel pay and use financial resources towards such things as “teacher retention and recruitment” vs hiring additional support personnel or providing additional services with supplemental and concentration grant funds.
    • The negative relationship seen between per-pupil spending and lower-needs schools might also be indicative of the years of experience (and therefore cost) of the personnel at these schools rather than actual numbers of personnel providing services. For example, San Diego Unified has historically required school sites that do not receive Title I funds to only consider the five most senior applicants for any open position, which skews for higher per-student spending at the lower-needs sites but does not offer any additional personnel at those sites. Have other metrics, such as FTE per student been analyzed?

    Finally, I suspect that increases in such things as A-G completion and graduation rate are less related to the supplemental and concentration grant funding than to increased expectations (due to the inclusion of these as metrics on the California Schools Dashboard). However, with roughly 68% of 11th grade students testing below standards in Math and 43% testing below standards in ELA, one could wonder whether the implementation of standards for A-G completion and graduation are meaningful. Additionally, the report states that on the current trajectory (discounting the negative impact of the pandemic on student learning), it would take approximately 14 years to eliminate the performance gap between low-poverty school districts and high-poverty school districts (although the margin of error indicates that this could be more than 40 years). That will leave millions of California children without the skills needed to succeed and should create a sense of urgency. I would postulate that additional funding for education—including increased supplemental and concentration grant allocations—will only improve student outcomes if the state develops higher expectations with meaningful accountability.

  6. Amy H. Larsen 1 week ago1 week ago

    Aren’t students with disabilities considered “high need?”

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 7 days ago7 days ago

      Amy, not under the Local Control Funding Formula. Students with disabilities have been funded separately, although the funding may be merged in coming years.

  7. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman 1 week ago1 week ago

    The Local Control Funding Formula was enacted in Y 2013 to benefit low-achieving California K-12 students Seven years later, in 2020, the State Auditor found LCFF monies were routinely misused and diverted to benefit other local public school entities than intended recipients -- usually adult employees rather than children. The most numerous and most needy groups of students -- English language learners, the impoverished, foster children and the homeless -- were deprived … Read More

    The Local Control Funding Formula was enacted in Y 2013 to benefit low-achieving California K-12 students Seven years later, in 2020, the State Auditor found LCFF monies were routinely misused and diverted to benefit other local public school entities than intended recipients — usually adult employees rather than children. The most numerous and most needy groups of students — English language learners, the impoverished, foster children and the homeless — were deprived of their rightful due by complicit school boards across the state.

    Now, eight years in, there’s another study showing that LCFF monies, used as intended, help improve the academic picture for our huge population of low-achieving kids. This unsurprising information finally was gathered by the estimable Public Policy Institute of California only because there were “federally-mandated school-level data available for the first time.”

    In other words and reading between the glass-is-half-full lines, for eight years California leaders, officials and agencies used a strategy of impunity, silence and cover-up to prevent course-correction and true accountability for proper use of Local Control Funding Formula money.

    As they say, there oughta be a law.

  8. Michael Batie PhD 1 week ago1 week ago

    I authored a Cost Benefit Analysis (http://www.michaelbatie.com/settlement) on the spending of some $150M directed to underserved schools in the LAUSD as a result of a suit filed by the Community Coalition and the ACLU. This website www.michaelbatie.com/settlement presents how these dollars were distributed and what were the results as measured by SBAC outcomes. The results are frankly shocking but not really given that the spending was focused on salaries for school teachers … Read More

    I authored a Cost Benefit Analysis (http://www.michaelbatie.com/settlement) on the spending of some $150M directed to underserved schools in the LAUSD as a result of a suit filed by the Community Coalition and the ACLU. This website http://www.michaelbatie.com/settlement presents how these dollars were distributed and what were the results as measured by SBAC outcomes. The results are frankly shocking but not really given that the spending was focused on salaries for school teachers and administrators. A really sad situation with really sad outcomes

  9. Michael Kirst 1 week ago1 week ago

    This study is based on a partial and perhaps misleading data base that relies on teacher salaries, and does not include essential district programs such as professional development for low income schools. When I asked the author about the study limitations below is his answer'. Yes, it’s true that the school site data are limited, and come with some caveats. Still, it’s more information than we’ve had to date and I view them as suggestive … Read More

    This study is based on a partial and perhaps misleading data base that relies on teacher salaries, and does not include essential district programs such as professional development for low income schools. When I asked the author about the study limitations below is his answer’.
    Yes, it’s true that the school site data are limited, and come with some caveats. Still, it’s more information than we’ve had to date and I view them as suggestive of overall patterns rather than a conclusive accounting (which doesn’t really exist in any comprehensive way).