You’ve been known as the father of the Local Control Funding Formula ever since you created the concept. Ten years later, does the moniker stick — something you want to be known for?
I’m happy to be associated with it. The old system was collapsing of its own weight. The many, many categorical programs had no real support. So we brought something in that seems to have resulted in widespread support, and there’s been no major surgery done on it. Gov. Newsom was clear that he wanted to build on it and expand LCFF funding. So it was not a hostile takeover by an incoming administration. Most of the new money he’s put in for specific things is one-time money.
Did the Local Control Funding Formula pass as you envisioned, or were there compromises along the way that disappointed you?
If you go back to the original founding paper that Goodwin Liu (a law professor then and now California Supreme Court Justice) and I wrote with Alan Bersin (a former state secretary of education) in 2007, we got everything we recommended in that paper except (a regional adjustment for) the cost of living. It costs a lot more to run a school in Santa Clara County than anywhere in the Central Valley.
Another area that we decided not to move forward on is special education, which is 15% or more of the (districts’) budgets. Those are the major two things.
I hear the issue of the regional cost adjustment factor a lot, particularly from the Bay Area and coastal districts. Is it too late to do that 10 years later?
No, I don’t think it’s too late. You have to do it, however, on a rising tide of revenue; where school districts had big budget balances. So it’s the timing of it, but I think it can be done. And this has been in other states.
Do we lose count of the fact that LCFF was mainly a redistribution plan and really wasn’t a revenue-generating plan?
Yes, completely. We said from the start, this is not an adequacy proposal; this is an equity proposal, and we were not thinking or projecting what adequacy would be as some other states have done and studies have done. Our simple view was the state every year will distribute large amounts of money to local school districts. We can do a better job of that.
It was a credit to you and Gov. Jerry Brown that the system passed without a court fight. There are not many states that can say that.
It was partly that the system was so broken — there was a consensus there. But I think that was unusual.
Has local control worked as you envisioned it?
I thought there would be more recategorization of programs. Bills are legislators’ footnotes in history, and they like to pass bills. And so it’s held much more than I thought. I would credit the governors for being tough on this.
Missed opportunity with local control
I also mean, are you convinced, looking back, that local school boards have had the wisdom to enact good decisions, that parents would be engaged in the LCAP process?
No, I’ve been particularly disappointed in school boards’ lack of deliberation on the LCAP. I thought that they should be really involved; this was their chance to get beyond formulaic budgets and the complexity of budgets to create a three-year budget plan with clear priorities. Generally, my impression is that they have not. We’ve been working to put money in the budget for educating parents. That’s a hard push to get parents knowledgeable and then really influential over the budgets. And the LCAP as an instrument needs even more work to do that. We’ve made some progress, but not enough.
So what’s been the biggest achievement?
I think the biggest achievement was what is most novel about LCFF nationwide. And that’s the concept of concentration grants. And the view that we had when we began to think about this back in 2007, that extreme poverty leads to challenges of education that have to be adjusted for with major amounts of money. And that concentrations of poverty cause problems that have not been dealt with, with even the tweaking that other states have done with putting a little bit of money into it.
I think you’ll find a lot of people will agree, but then they will say that the use of free and reduced lunch was the wrong measure. And that it hasn’t quite reached the intended schools or areas of poverty that you had hoped.
I agree with that, and I’ve been calling for a consideration of new measures of poverty, particularly using census and unemployment data. There is a focus of researchers that are looking into this now in California.
What’s been the biggest disappointment with the roll out of LCFF?
It’s not in the funding formula, it’s the LCAP that needs further work and that, and also the system of support, which has really not been able to be implemented because of Covid. I think the formula looks good and will always need to be changed and tweaked. A major problem has been we’ve been pushing accountability, but not enough capacity-building for teachers to teach the high curriculum standards we have.
Be more specific about capacity.
It’s really all about instruction. And the key to that is classroom teachers and principals working in concert with them and an aligned public system around instruction. We aligned the state policies around instruction and our standards pretty well. But that hasn’t translated into the local districts in many cases. The state needs to be much more active in what’s sometimes called professional development, but other forms of capacity-building that involve teacher collaboration and so on.
Is that a recognition that districts may not recognize the importance and don’t put the resources into that, and the state needs to say this is a priority?
The locals haven’t put enough money into equipping their teachers to teach the standards. I think the state should really say we need to be the leader in capacity-building, and we need to design a state system that would do that, and we need to fund it. I would not see it on top of LCFF and not as a categorical program. If you look at the countries that have succeeded in this — Ontario, Canada; South Korea; Finland; Victoria, Australia — they’ve really focused it at the state level.
Does that apply also to early childhood education? Because there really isn’t anything in LCFF or the LCAP right now that deals with, for example, reading and numeracy in grades TK through grade two. In these critical years, there’s no accountability for districts to use effective instruction or effective textbooks or systems of instruction work.
The underlying theory of LCFF was that the state should fund the system and not specify in detail how you teach at the local level reading in every setting in California. We tried that under prior administrations, Gray Davis and Schwarzenegger, where the state board was very active in pushing particular instructional materials, like Open Court. I don’t think it lasted. You can’t force from Sacramento how they teach reading up and down California. So again, I go back to state level capacity-building rather than telling them how to teach reading.
What do you think of the changes that Gov. Newsom has done so far with the funding formula? He’s also recommending now that we focus on high-poverty schools with extra money, which is different from focusing on the districts. You and Gov. Brown were very insistent that the money should go through districts and not through schools. What do you think about that approach?
It goes back to the motto of LCFF: patience, persistence, humility and continuous improvement. The number 55% (of a district’s students qualifying for concentration funding) was not scientifically derived. That was a consensus of people thinking about it. And so if the governor feels that that’s too low, that’s a legitimate thought. We could play with different numbers and see how it comes out. Experimenting makes some sense, but adopting it as a major overhaul now is premature.
I’ve been surprised there hasn’t been any movement on providing the costs of special education. The reason we didn’t bring in special education in 2007 is frankly, I had no idea how to do it. It’s very complex. Since then, there are three reports out there. I would urge the governor and the Legislature to do something.
There hasn’t been a focus of attention on the distribution of teachers. Is that an area that needed to be highlighted in the LCAP?
We should look at that, but in some sophisticated way. I lived through it in the ’80s and ’70s, to require local school districts. And Los Angeles was requiring local school districts to balance their teachers by forcibly moving the teachers from school to school, and it didn’t work. Teachers weren’t particularly effective in those settings, which they didn’t want to be in. The only way we should look at it is not a forcible teacher transfer, but adding more teaching resources to those particular schools.
You mean, by that you mean making it more attractive to teachers who want to be in those schools?
That, or a drastic reduction of class size. Or my favorite would be release time for the teachers in those settings to have a lot more preparation for how to teach the standards and improve instruction.
Is there a way of making an LCAP readable without adding more requirements to it?
That’s a very good question. There’s a tradeoff between doing the things you need to do, some of which we’ve talked about, some of which the state board and the Legislature have already done to address the complexity and the length. The way we tried, and I’m still thinking this is worth more trying, is through an executive summary.
The hope was that the executive summary would help school boards frame their deliberations and set spending priorities rather than focus on all the other compliance data. We passed regulations that specify what should be in the executive summary and how it should be prepared. That would also help the public, which could latch on to the executive summary as the center of attention.
I think the proposals that are on the table by the administration now are quite good: enhancing parent participation, which is a distinguishing part of the LCAP; looking at how some districts list their expenditures in the LCAPs in ways that you can’t figure out how they are spending money on their priorities; looking at the distribution of teachers by experience and certification to add more instructional resources in low-income schools. All of these are good ideas and part of a California’s LCFF theory of continuous improvement.
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Jennifer Bestor 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago
Providing Santa Clara County school children with comparable educational resources to the rest of the state would cost exactly nothing. Financial recognition that it costs a lot more to run a school in Santa Clara County than anywhere in the Central Valley would require no more than a few hundred words in the Ed Code. – nor, indeed, even one extra dollar of new tax revenue – would be required. This year, the … Read More
Providing Santa Clara County school children with comparable educational resources to the rest of the state would cost exactly nothing. Financial recognition that it costs a lot more to run a school in Santa Clara County than anywhere in the Central Valley would require no more than a few hundred words in the Ed Code.
– nor, indeed, even one extra dollar of new tax revenue – would be required. This year, the CDE P1 Apportionment Exhibits show over half a billion dollars of property tax in Santa Clara County that is being declared “Unused Excess Educational Revenue” – and handed off to the county and city governments as a windfall. $505 million that had been set aside to level up the revenue-poor districts to the wealthy basic-aids they border is dismissed simply because LCFF does not include a regional cost supplement. That’s $3,668 per child in the state-funded Santa Clara County districts – East Side San Jose, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Milpitas, etc.
This is up from zero when LCFF was passed in 2013. Was LCFF meant to be redistributional – away from education to other local governments? It certainly has been.
But wait, what about equally high-cost San Francisco? In San Francisco, $383 million is being handed off this year – up from zero when LCFF was passed in 2013. That’s $6,850 per child.
Are these children – and their futures being held hostage for their parents’ votes for the next big fund-raising proposition?
Along with the low-income districts in San Mateo County (well over $10,000 per child is available) and in Marin ($5,600) … that makes 230,000 children a year whose futures have been nailed to the cross of a chimeric “rising tide of revenue.” A simple cost-of-living supplement in the highest cost counties would have been paid for – 100% – out of existing property tax revenue allocated for education.
But wait! This is helping everyone else, right? Wrong.
First of all, the Bay Area is the perfect place for student teaching. Young people want to live here. But the districts that could offer them the best opportunities can’t even afford the classroom teachers they have. So that’s a non starter.
Second, the Bay Area would have been a great place to nail LCAP development and work on new and innovative programs to meet its goals for low-income and English learner students. But no — instead the so-called supplemental and concentration grants get swallowed up just providing equivalent base resources. The failure to fund for local cost of living is financial ignorance run riot — a willful negligence.
Finally, this mushrooming billion+ giveaway opened the door to a diversion of property tax revenue available for Special Education Funding. By handing over these hundreds of millions a year of the most reliable, stable, local funding with nary a squeak — to the already-wealthiest county and city governments instead of schools — Michael Kirst and the State Board of Education opened the door wide to another grab. Over $100 million a year of property tax allocated for County Office of Education and Special Education Funding has been arbitrarily assigned to COE’s instead of Special Ed … and then declared “Excess” to their LCFF entitlement … and handed off to county governments to cover the state’s share of trial court costs. Rather than just five of highest cost counties, this hits ten — including Placer and Riverside.
An objective analysis of LCFF would show that it increased inequity in the Bay Area — and decreased adequacy. It snatched failure from the jaws of success. Why?
Dr. Bill Conrad 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago
Great illumination of the LCFF shell game! Excellent insights into the inequitable allocation of state revenues for education. However your statement that LCAPs could be used to design “innovative” programs for under served students is misguided. School districts are unable to implement basic programs in reading and math due to the lack of preparedness and professionalism of administrators and teachers. Let’s focus on the selection and implementation and alignment of a few science based … Read More
Great illumination of the LCFF shell game! Excellent insights into the inequitable allocation of state revenues for education.
However your statement that LCAPs could be used to design “innovative” programs for under served students is misguided. School districts are unable to implement basic programs in reading and math due to the lack of preparedness and professionalism of administrators and teachers. Let’s focus on the selection and implementation and alignment of a few science based practices on a system-wide basis. Enough with the “innovations” that will most surely end up on the burgeoning ash heap of failed education programs!
Dr. Bill Conrad 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago
The LCFF exists in an alternate universe rather than the real universe where the K-12 education system truly fails children and families of color.
It is a political budgetary tool that feeds the toxic K-12 culture of self over service and loyalty over competence.
Thank goodness the system is not accountable for academic achievement results or else we would all be in trouble!