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California’s landmark funding reform law needs to be fixed to help meet its promise of raising the achievement of underperforming student groups, conclude two recently published research studies.

While the reports’ authors and other advocates aren’t having major second thoughts about the Local Control Funding Formula, which has steered billions of dollars to designated student groups as intended, they point to new evidence that the funding formula has failed to significantly narrow the gap in achievement between targeted students — English language learners, low-income students, foster and homeless children — and those not entitled to substantial supplemental money.

The reports suggest two changes. One change calls for significantly modifying the formula to distribute more money to targeted students enrolled in districts without the highest concentrations of poverty.

The other would prod districts to address the placement of the least experienced and least effective teachers in schools with the highest-need students — a barrier to academic improvement that persists under local control, despite more state funding.

The co-authors of a third report, after examining recent research and interviewing at length 19 educators, advocates and policymakers, agree with those two recommendations. Carrie Hahnel, senior director of policy and strategy with the Opportunity Institute in Berkeley, and Daniel Humphrey, an independent education consultant, also suggest other revisions to the funding formula and its implementation. “What’s Next for the Local Control Funding Formula” was published this month by the nonprofit Policy Analysis for California Education.

The new studies by Julien Lafortune, research fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California, and by co-authors Bruce Fuller, professor of education and public policy at UC Berkeley, and JoonHo Lee, assistant professor of educational research at the University of Alabama, are among the first to unlock spending patterns under the funding formula.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown, the architect of the funding formula, designed a clear and relatively simple way to fund districts, but in keeping with his philosophy of local control, he gave districts latitude over spending and opposed uniform spending codes that would have made it easier to track and compare expenditures by school.

“We and other researchers and stakeholders have been hard-pressed to understand exactly how the money has been spent,” Hahnel and Humphrey acknowledged.

“California’s effort to progressively fund districts offers a remarkable policy experiment,” wrote Fuller and Lee. But, they continued, it operates under a “hazy” theory of how teacher quality and school-level practices might change.

The recommendation to alter the funding mechanism would be relatively simple — just alter some percentages — but it might be hard to persuade the Legislature to adopt it because it challenges a basic principle behind the formula. That is, districts with the highest concentrations of low-income and other “high-needs” students warrant significantly more money per student to offset the challenges of living in poverty, amid neighborhood instability, with fewer opportunities.

Under the formula, for every student targeted for additional funding, a district receives a supplemental 20% on top of base funding. Districts in which targeted students make up at least 55% of enrollment receive additional “concentration factor’” funding. It was an arbitrary divide, not grounded in research, that was decided during negotiations to pass the formula in 2013.

This year, Gov. Gavin Newsom made the first change in the formula since its passage.  Adding $1 billion solely in ongoing concentration money, with little public discussion, to address class size reduction, had the impact of raising the concentration factor by nearly a third, to 65%.

Concentration funding really makes a noticeable difference when targeted students make up four-fifths or more of a district’s enrollment. A district with 80% low-income, English learners, foster and homeless students gets about a third more in funding, compared with 10 percent extra funding for districts where those students make up half of enrollment.

Lafortune found that the additional money from the funding formula raised achievement significantly in the years studied, 2014-15 to 2018-19. English language arts and math scores on Smarter Balanced tests rose 10% and 9% respectively in the high-concentration funding districts, more than twice the increase in districts with far fewer high-needs students.

If those effects continued, Lafortune said, concentration grant funding could close test score gaps between highest- and lowest-need districts in 14 years. Concentration funding also appeared to be a factor in the rate of targeted student groups passing the A-G courses required for admission to the University of California and California State University.

But Lafortune found far less improvement and an insignificant closing of the achievement gap for the state’s high-needs students as a whole.

One reason could be that some of the extra money never made it to the schools that the targeted students attended. The amount varied significantly among districts, but statewide, 45 cents on every dollar for targeted students didn’t reach the schools, according to Lafortune. It’s not clear why. Perhaps district programs and staff not accounted for in school budgets provided programs and services for targeted students. Or maybe some of the funding was diverted to pay for increased staff pension expenses. Without more study, it’s impossible to know, Lafortune said.

The other reason could be that outside of high concentration districts, there wasn’t enough extra state money to make a difference. Lafortune calculated that 1 in 5 high-needs students in the state attended districts that didn’t qualify for any concentration funding.

One in 8 high-needs schools were located in low-funded districts. For example, fewer than half of the 28,000 students in San Jose Unified are entitled to extra funding but more than 80% of students in downtown San Jose schools are. Hahnel and Humphrey found that when all state, federal and local revenues, such as parcel taxes, are included, districts with the least proportions of high-needs students spent more per student than districts in the middle range funding under the Local Control Funding Formula. “Blunt polices may miss investing in a lot of kids in the middle,” Hahnel said.

To solve that problem, Hahnel and Humphrey recommended revising the funding formula so that additional funding provides more money to districts in the middle — those with 30% to 80% high-needs students.

An example is a unified school district in which half of its enrollment is targeted students, not enough to qualify for concentration money. Using a base grant of $8,691, it would get $587 per student more under one scenario for smoothing the concentration “kink” out of the formula, based on Hahnel’s calculation.

This could be done by blending supplemental and concentration rates into one rate. Their scenario, which assumes that no district would receive less than they already get,  would require several billion dollars more for the formula.

The Local Control Funding Formula makes up more the 70% of total K-12 funding. Since the law went into effect in 2014, money for the funding formula has increased $29 billion to $66.7 billion this year. Soon record funding will level off, making it harder to modify. That’s why changes need to be considered now, Hahnel said.

Widening gap in teacher experience

There is also urgency in acting now on inequitable teacher staffing patterns, the researchers say. Shortages of teachers in rural and urban districts and in high-demand areas of STEM, special education and bilingual education in high-poverty schools were already acute before the pandemic. Now, a surge of post-pandemic hiring with record state and federal funding, plus the addition of 12,000 transitional kindergarten teachers over the next few years under the state’s new universal TK program for 4-year-olds, could worsen disparities.

“The reliance on novice teachers may well get a lot worse in the next few years,” Fuller said.

“I do wonder if trying to staff up quickly with this new money will create long-term substitute teachers and under-credentialed teachers,” Hahnel said. “Is that the best strategy for students? Will it actually do a disservice to how to spend concentration dollars?”

Just as the funding formula does little to ensure resources are distributed fairly within a school district, it doesn’t address the inequitable distribution of unqualified and inexperienced or novice teachers — those with less than two years in the classroom — within school districts.

In taking an extensive look at the latter issue, Fuller and Lee found that schools serving large concentrations of low-income students used the additional funding to moderately reduce class sizes and to add classified employees, such as counselors and psychiatric social workers. High schools added an array of courses. But increases in money from the funding formula increased the tendency to hire inexperienced or probationary teachers, along with long-term substitutes. And they also tended to assign those teachers to classes serving English learners.

The researchers’ analysis showed that the proportion of novice teachers in districts that received average additional funding under the formula increased by 7 percentage points, to 17.5%.

Fuller and Lee theorized that several factors might be at play: the ability of teachers with seniority to transfer to higher-income schools; an institutionalized practice of assigning the newest teachers to more classes and to those with a higher number of struggling students; and a failure to address ways to retain newer teachers.

State budgets under Newsom and Brown have included hundreds of millions of dollars for programs to deal with a teacher shortage, including teacher residency programs, incentives for classified employees to get a teaching credential and college aid through the Golden State Teacher Grant program.

Under that program, recipients agree to work in high-needs schools and high-needs subjects, including STEM, special education and bilingual education. This year’s state budget includes $250 million over five years to attract and retain highly qualified National Board-certified teachers to teach in high-poverty schools.

The State Board of Education is also considering adding measurements indicating the distribution of ineffective, inexperienced and misassigned teachers by school districts to the California School Dashboard. The state accountability website rates school and district performance by multiple metrics. A low rating would force school districts to analyze whether the solution involved a lack of money – not enough funding formula money getting to the right schools – or nonfunding issues, like hiring decisions or contractual obstacles.

But first, the state needs to publish that data. Fuller is urging the California Department of Education to do that quickly and the State Board and Legislature to press districts to address teacher disparities, which he says are thwarting further progress under the Local Control Funding Formula.

“Research findings are starting to question whether (local control funding) is having the virtuous impact that the Legislature and Jerry Brown intended. Will Democrats in the Legislature, who just want to declare victory on local control funding, rest on their laurels on the staffing issue?” Fuller asked.

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  1. Tim Morgan 8 hours ago8 hours ago

    Mr. Fensterwald, It seems that all of your articles are excellent, and that the LCFF needs analyses like yours. But I'm perplexed by this paragraph: This year, Gov. Gavin Newsom made the first change in the formula since its passage. Adding $1 billion solely in ongoing concentration money, with little public discussion, to address class size reduction, had the impact of raising the concentration factor by nearly a third, to 65%. Are you saying that additional … Read More

    Mr. Fensterwald,

    It seems that all of your articles are excellent, and that the LCFF needs analyses like yours. But I’m perplexed by this paragraph:

    This year, Gov. Gavin Newsom made the first change in the formula since its passage. Adding $1 billion solely in ongoing concentration money, with little public discussion, to address class size reduction, had the impact of raising the concentration factor by nearly a third, to 65%.

    Are you saying that additional concentration grant money increased the threshold for such funds from 55% to 65% (of “unduplicated” pupils)? And where is “nearly a third.” Or are you referring to the percentage of supplemental funds that are consumed by concentration grants? Or perhaps the total “markup” (as retailers abuse that term) of funds attributable to supplementation and concentration grants.”

    The suggestion that districts should use these funds in the schools with the greatest need I suspect points to the tension between the Funding Formula and Local Control that tends to make the LCFF self-contradictory. Sometimes “local control” is a mere shibboleth; other times, it interferes with funding priorities.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 6 hours ago6 hours ago

      Thanks for your comment, Tim. I am referring to the percentage of funding beyond the base grant to goes to concentration funding. It had been 50 cents on top of every dollar of base funding. The extra $1 billion exclusively added to concentration funding had the effect of raising the proportion of concentration funding from 50% to 65% of base funding – technically an additional 30 percent, not quite a third. You are right about the tension … Read More

      Thanks for your comment, Tim.

      I am referring to the percentage of funding beyond the base grant to goes to concentration funding. It had been 50 cents on top of every dollar of base funding. The extra $1 billion exclusively added to concentration funding had the effect of raising the proportion of concentration funding from 50% to 65% of base funding – technically an additional 30 percent, not quite a third.

      You are right about the tension between local control and dedicated funding. Districts qualifying for concentration funding must use the extra $1 billion to reduce class sizes.

  2. SD Parent 2 days ago2 days ago

    I wonder how the analysis was done and who were the "education experts" these folks used to do their analysis and the biases they may have presented. I used to think that more money would fix what's wrong with education in California, but I've learned otherwise by following how it has been spent in San Diego Unified. My experience is that "local control" doesn't necessarily translate into wise decisions or decisions that prioritize … Read More

    I wonder how the analysis was done and who were the “education experts” these folks used to do their analysis and the biases they may have presented. I used to think that more money would fix what’s wrong with education in California, but I’ve learned otherwise by following how it has been spent in San Diego Unified.

    My experience is that “local control” doesn’t necessarily translate into wise decisions or decisions that prioritize students’ outcomes over employee concerns. Based on the history in San Diego Unified, more money alone will not make meaningful improvements in student outcomes. The key of the weighted funding formula in LCFF is the LCAP, but there is no meaningful expectation of accountability around student outcomes in the LCAP. For SDUSD, the LCAP has become nothing more than a process of justifying past expenditures with minor tweaks here and there at school sites (with the meager amounts of supplemental and concentration grant funds that are distributed to schools as “discretionary”). At the state level, there need to be greater expectations around LCAP metrics that involve student achievement outcomes, a focus on educating teachers to learn to use data to inform instructional practices, and a robust and orchestrated method to share best practices. In addition, the state needs to reinstitute the requirement to define exactly where LCFF supplemental and concentration grant funding is used (e.g. with an accounting code and in the LCAP).

    It’s worth reminding the authors of the report (and others) that schools with high concentrations of poverty already get substantial Title I funds as well. Just like the supplemental and concentration grant funds, Title I funding has limited accountability around student outcomes (and, no surprise, mediocre results).

  3. Jim 6 days ago6 days ago

    So the proposal is to take the teachers who 1) would have the easiest time finding a new job and 2) are closest to retirement, and force them into positions they don’t want. Can’t imagine what would happen next.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 6 days ago6 days ago

      Jim, nowhere did I read that outcome was stated or implied in any of the studies I cited.

      • Jim 6 days ago6 days ago

        "Fuller and Lee theorized that several factors might be at play: the ability of teachers with seniority to transfer to higher-income schools; " This is not the first time that this issue has arisen. Many Title 1 schools are too exhausting to work in so they end up with a mixture of those who don't have other options and those that don't care. My wife taught at a title one middle school as it paid … Read More

        “Fuller and Lee theorized that several factors might be at play: the ability of teachers with seniority to transfer to higher-income schools; ”

        This is not the first time that this issue has arisen. Many Title 1 schools are too exhausting to work in so they end up with a mixture of those who don’t have other options and those that don’t care. My wife taught at a title one middle school as it paid better. Eventually she changed districts for less money but better students. The current movement to keep dangerous/disruptive students in class longer is only exacerbating the desire of teaching staff to leave.

        What options do districts have to keep teachers in these classes? Money? They have tried that with only limited success as most teachers did not enter the profession for compensation. Tracking students into “good” classes and “bad” classes would help but not be acceptable politically.

        What can districts do?

  4. Steve P Manos 6 days ago6 days ago

    Under the section: "Widening gap in teacher experience", you state, "...schools serving large concentrations of low-income students used the additional funding to moderately reduce class sizes and to add classified employees, such as counselors and psychiatric social workers." This opens up a whole area of neglect and misunderstanding in reporting about educational policy improvement and in the minimal value put into the necessary "Student and Learning Supports (SLS)" Component (a la UCLA, SMHP and the CA … Read More

    Under the section: “Widening gap in teacher experience”, you state, “…schools serving large concentrations of low-income students used the additional funding to moderately reduce class sizes and to add classified employees, such as counselors and psychiatric social workers.”
    This opens up a whole area of neglect and misunderstanding in reporting about educational policy improvement and in the minimal value put into the necessary “Student and Learning Supports (SLS)” Component (a la UCLA, SMHP and the CA CTC Credentialed Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) system in place in CA schools). Simply put, students need for success and wellbeing three essential Components: effective teaching; effective administration/management; effective PPS/aka Student and Learning Supports. The later is a bona fide, CA CTC Credentialed part of our educational infrastructure, and too commonly marginalized and misunderstood. Teaching and administration alone can’t work and haven’t been working for the benefit of students closing the achievement, opportunity, and equity gaps.

    Your earlier statement that I quoted mentioned classified counselors and psychiatric social workers. This is a glaring example of the misunderstanding of the value of the PPS/SLS in the necessary mix of every school – increased funding is much needed, but a focus on just teaching and management is bound to end in barriers to teaching, learning, and student success. And by the way, Credentialed School Social Workers and School Counselors are usually always credentialed certificated staff – rarely are they hired as classified staff unless the district and HR are try to cut corners and save a dime – or they are not savvy ablut the PPS/SLS paradigm or the established state educational infrastructure..

    The researchers mention several important areas that need to be remedied: like a more equitable and effective LCFF funding formula; putting experienced and effective teachers (maybe providing incentives) in the LCFF targeted schools, the most challenging; giving inexperienced teachers a chance become seasoned before burn-out and short-changing students sets in. They fail to say a word about Credentialed Student and Learning Support professionals (Credentialed School Social Workers, School Counselors, School Psychologists). This Component is largely missing, understaffed, underfunded, misunderstood, and needed to help close the GAP. More reporting and research is long overdue in this area.
    We can have the very best teachers (and administrators) in every school in CA, and there will still be barriers to teaching and gaps to learning – student success and wellbeing – until there is recognition and funding for effective professional Student and Learning Supports to deal with the wide spectrum of Mental Health needs in schools: i.e., support learning, behavioral, social, emotional development, success and wellbeing.

    Regards,
    Steve P. Manos, PPSC in SSW, LCSW (Ret)

  5. el 6 days ago6 days ago

    The best thing we can do for teacher retention and for creating experienced, high quality teachers is to create stability in funding so that schools stop having a binge-purge relationship with staff. There's simply no reservoir of experienced, credentialed teachers sitting around ready to hire when we get a funding surge, and conversely, the young and promising teachers that we bring on and invest in are vulnerable in every budget purge, which seems to happen … Read More

    The best thing we can do for teacher retention and for creating experienced, high quality teachers is to create stability in funding so that schools stop having a binge-purge relationship with staff. There’s simply no reservoir of experienced, credentialed teachers sitting around ready to hire when we get a funding surge, and conversely, the young and promising teachers that we bring on and invest in are vulnerable in every budget purge, which seems to happen on a scale of every 5 years ish. Once we lose them, they rarely come back. Teaching is a demanding job anyway, and entry level salaries these days are in many locations competitive with Costco and In-n-Out which require no college degree and maybe come with more flexibility.

    The emergency credentials aren’t necessarily bad if they come with quality support for learning and mentoring classroom management and pedagogical skills. It’s hard to find staff for that as well, and it always seems like the conditions where it’s easy to fund that mentoring and find the mentors to hire are rare indeed. Having more positions like this may be helpful for stretching the experience of senior teachers across younger ones as well as providing a change of pace for staff that lets them stretch and grow.

  6. Jay 6 days ago6 days ago

    The additional funding is absorbed by specialized programs at the district level (example: District EL Coordinator and assistant) and does nothing to reduce the size of classroom instruction for the targeted students. Instead of simply stating additional money will be given, the money should be specific to reduced class sizes for these students or additional educational supports for these students (example: instructional assistants, etc.), which are more easily audited.

  7. Will 7 days ago7 days ago

    "One reason could be that some of the extra money never made it to the schools that the targeted students attended. The amount varied significantly among districts, but statewide, 45 cents on every dollar for targeted students didn’t reach the schools, according to Lafortune. It’s not clear why. Perhaps district programs and staff not accounted for in school budgets provided programs and services for targeted students." I was a former fiscal director for a … Read More

    “One reason could be that some of the extra money never made it to the schools that the targeted students attended. The amount varied significantly among districts, but statewide, 45 cents on every dollar for targeted students didn’t reach the schools, according to Lafortune. It’s not clear why. Perhaps district programs and staff not accounted for in school budgets provided programs and services for targeted students.”

    I was a former fiscal director for a district and implemented the internal financial tracking account numbers. It’s a bit confusing to me how funds wouldn’t reach the schools, and wonder if it’s some confusion on how districts report S/C spending. An example: Let’s say the district hires 5 new counselors to support 5 elementary schools using S/C funding. A school’s budget (the one that the school site council might review) likely wouldn’t have “control” over whether to get a counselor, so it wouldn’t “show” in their budget. In other words, the LCAP committee and district leaders decided “every elementary school shall get a counselor which will cost $500,000 annually for the district” The schools don’t get the $100K to decide to hire a counselor. But without the S/C spending, the 5 schools would have no counselors.

  8. Quentin Wilson 7 days ago7 days ago

    So, high quality teachers (and programming, by the way) have the greatest impact on student achievement and we still don’t measure and report any indicators of teacher effectiveness? By the way, even if the state adds it to the dashboard, the experience of teachers is not the best measure we could use of teacher quality.