Students in AP Biology at King/Drew Medical Magnet observe roly-polies during an experiment on the first day of school.

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom released a proposal to strengthen accountability for the Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF, the state’s K-12 funding system, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the funding formula, which shifted tens of billions of dollars to school districts serving high-needs students, provided district officials with greater budget flexibility with which to address their priorities, and strengthened student and family engagement in local spending decisions.

Given the significant unfinished learning, teacher shortages and mental health needs that our school-aged children are still experiencing as we emerge from the pandemic, now is the time for lawmakers to strengthen our school finance system. The governor’s proposal, combined with other improvements, would get California closer to ensuring equitable educational opportunities and outcomes.

Signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013, the new funding formula rejected the one-dimensional “test and punish” philosophy of prior decades and established an accountability system that instead tracks holistic measures of student and school success. It also offers state support to help districts and school communities continuously learn and improve. A diverse ecosystem of equity champions, including students and families, organizers, educators, policy advocates, lawyers, researchers, philanthropic leaders and progressive policymakers, played a central role in winning this historic reform and in ongoing implementation efforts.

While California is making considerable progress in implementing LCFF, multiple investigations and enforcement actions by social justice group Public Advocates have revealed that billions of dollars intended to increase or improve services for low-income students, English learners and foster youth are still not reaching these students at the school-site level. Many school districts are failing to show how they spend their money or engage the community, or whether their investments are effectively closing opportunity gaps. Moreover, county offices of education responsible for overseeing school district spending plans lack the capacity to ensure their full compliance with state law.

Similarly, Ed Trust–West has found that many districts face significant challenges in sharing decision-making and communicating funding decisions with community members. Its policy research has also uncovered that despite the new funding formula, students in the highest-poverty schools still have less access to resources and support personnel like counselors and librarians than their peers in low-poverty schools do. What’s more, the system of support that is meant to bolster district improvement doesn’t adequately require or guide struggling districts to make the systemic changes necessary to increase opportunities for marginalized students.

The governor’s proposal confronts some of these issues by requiring school officials to address learning gaps for student groups at the district and school level and to modify goals and strategies when their investments are not effective. This means that historically underserved student groups, including Black and Latino students, Native American students, unhoused students, foster youth and students with disabilities will receive more focused support.

Broader accountability measures are also needed to realize the promise of the local control funding formula. This includes consistent data reporting — including tracking state spending for marginalized students — enhanced staffing for districts to meaningfully engage their school community in developing spending plans, and boosting capacity at county offices of education to provide adequate oversight and support for improvement.

The state also needs to create an integrated online platform where district spending plans can be easily accessed by parents, policymakers and the public to monitor improvement.

We’ve come a long way in just 10 years to implement one of the most ambitious school funding reforms in the nation, yet much more remains to be done. The actions lawmakers take this year will determine whether the equity promise that California made to its students in 2013 will be fulfilled or remain out of reach for far too many.


Guillermo Mayer is president & CEO of Public Advocates, a public-interest law firm. Christopher J. Nellum is executive director of The Education Trust—West, a nonprofit organization advocating for equity in education. 

The opinions in this commentary are those of the authors. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.

Share Article

Comments (3)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * *

Comments Policy

We welcome your comments. All comments are moderated for civility, relevance and other considerations. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

  1. Tarra knotts 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    I’m wondering if you would investigate LCFF in “poor but not poor enough,“ “rich but not rich enough“ districts such as Pacifica, Millbrae, possibly South San Francisco, San Carlos. We do not get supplemental funding, but we also can’t afford large parcel taxes or education foundations. We are sinking.

  2. Jim 1 month ago1 month ago

    Diversion of LCFF moneys was set in place by the venal former California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. When the LCFF was originated to concept was to link funds to actions and through that to outcomes. Torlakson, who was completely bought and paid for by the CTA, signed a letter making LCFF moneys available for general consumption. This was well documented in EdSource (https://edsource.org/2015/torlakson-reinterprets-departments-stance-on-teacher-raises/81528).

  3. Todd Maddison 1 month ago1 month ago

    Absolutely! While we hear incessant clamoring for "local control," what we find when we get it (as we did with the LCFF) is schools paying far more attention to their own interests rather than the interests of kids. In the last decade, funding per student in CA has risen at a rate almost three times inflation. Yet academic performance is flat, and we've seen story after story about underserved minorities, low income populations, kids with special needs, … Read More


    While we hear incessant clamoring for “local control,” what we find when we get it (as we did with the LCFF) is schools paying far more attention to their own interests rather than the interests of kids.

    In the last decade, funding per student in CA has risen at a rate almost three times inflation. Yet academic performance is flat, and we’ve seen story after story about underserved minorities, low income populations, kids with special needs, etc – all the constituencies that are often under-represented in PTOs, Site Councils, LCAP Committees, DPAC, and at Board Meetings.

    Meanwhile, what we’ve also seen is pay and benefits for education employees rising at rates also multiples of inflation, with median total compensation for administrative employees in 2021 reaching a record $169,390 and for teachers $125,348.

    Clearly, when left to local control, our education system always feels the best way to spend their revenue is on themselves.

    The multiple bonus raises that go into that are enabled by school boards dominated by union-supported trustees, who will NEVER vote against a union bonus raise proposal, even if the district will be driven further into financial distress by it.

    The problem will never be solved locally, we need to return to a system that imposes requirements – particularly on underserved populations – to make sure money allocated for that is spent on them.