3, 2, 1 ... lift off!
Now's the time to prepare for California's revolutionary new Local Control Funding Formula
Redwood City Unified School District board member Dennis McBride says he was “fat, happy and dumb” when he arrived at the San Mateo County Office of Education on the evening of Sept. 18 to hear what California School Boards Association staff had to say about the state’s revolutionary new Local Control Funding Formula and its implications for school governance teams.
He knew, of course, that the new school financing strategy that Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law last July represented a radical shift in the way the state allocates money to local educational agencies, targeting additional resources to help schools boost achievement among English learners, children from low-income families and students in foster care. He was also well aware that school district and county office of education governance teams would play a key role in connecting with local community members, crafting new budget priorities and designing local accountability plans.
But McBride mistakenly believed that when it came to getting down to the nuts and bolts of putting the complex new formula into action in his district, there wasn’t all that much he and other governance team members could do right now to get ready.
“I thought we had plenty of time,” McBride says.
He’s not the only education leader to think so, and it’s not difficult to see why.
After all, the State Board of Education isn’t even scheduled to issue its first LCFF expenditure and budgeting regulations until the end of January. State Board templates for the Local Control and Accountability Plans that governance teams are required to develop—setting performance goals for targeted students and specifying how districts and schools will meet them—aren’t due until March. New “rubrics for evaluation and technical assistance” to help LEAs determine whether they’re succeeding in this brave new world of school finance won’t be adopted until October 2015.
But CSBA and other educational leadership organizations are urging governance teams not to wait for official state guidance before beginning their LCFF implementation plans, and McBride emerged from CSBA’s LCFF workshop a bit shell shocked when he considered the intensive work that lies ahead and the tight deadlines for getting it done.
“What I heard was that the LCFF isn’t coming,” he says. “It’s here now.”
Get started now
That’s exactly the message that CSBA officers and regional directors, and Executive Director Vernon M. Billy and senior staff, have been delivering at more than 20 regional LCFF workshops up and down the state. Workshops like the one McBride attended in San Mateo are among a host of other CSBA resources—including webinars, webcasts, governance briefs, fact sheets, talking points and a toolkit, all at www.csba.org/LCFF—designed to help governance teams implement the new spending strategy. CSBA’s Policy Services Department is updating some 80 sample policies to reflect LCFF changes in areas ranging from parent involvement and charter oversight to details of the new budgeting formula and accountability plans.
The association is also offering a dozen LCFF-focused sessions at this year’s Annual Education Conference and Trade Show in San Diego Dec. 5-7. All these efforts are aimed at demystifying the state’s complex new financing strategy and identifying steps school governance teams should be taking now.
“I can’t emphasize enough how crucial it is for governance teams to begin planning for this immediately,” says Teri Burns, senior director in CSBA’s Policy and Programs Department and a board member in the Natomas Unified School District. “You cannot afford to wait for the state to tell you what to do. You have to start planning your public outreach, adjusting your budgets, setting local priorities and familiarizing yourself with what we do know about the LCFF so far.”
LCFF experts say governance teams need to focus on three major areas:
- Funding: LEAs will get grants for every student, plus additional funds specifically to support services for foster students, children from low-income families and English learners; budgets must demonstrate that grants for these students are spent to increase or improve services to these students.
- Accountability: Working closely with community members, governance teams must design three-year Local Control and Accountability Plans that identify how their investments in specific programs and services will benefit the three targeted student groups and set annual performance goals for those groups and for students with disabilities.
- Data: Governance teams must analyze and familiarize themselves with data about how their different student subgroups are performing. They need to measure the effectiveness of existing services and programs.
Read the law
Governance teams should begin by studying the law, advises longtime California education expert Sue Burr, who will be instrumental in designing LCFF regulations and the template for local accountability plans as a member of the State Board of Education.
“I’ve been telling everyone to commit Ed. Code Section 52060 to memory,” Burr said as a guest panelist at CSBA’s Back-to-School Webcast in September. “It’s in place already and it’s very clearly written. It makes it clear what the expectations are for the LCAP for every district and every one of its schools.”
That Education Code section spells out the eight priorities that must be addressed in every accountability plan under the LCFF, such as student achievement, implementation of the Common Core State Standards, student engagement, school climate and parental involvement.
A seismic shift
Whether one calls it a “seismic shift in school finance,” as Burr did during the Back-to-School Webcast, or “the biggest change to school funding in the past 30 years,” as Billy characterized the new formula in a discussion with CSBA’s Board of Directors, there’s no question that LCFF is a revolutionary development with enormous potential to support California’s most vulnerable students.
The new school finance formula presents governance teams with a hefty challenge that’s exhilarating—and a bit terrifying.
Also speaking at the Back-to-School Webcast, State Board of Education member Carl Cohn, the respected former superintendent of the Long Beach and San Diego unified school districts, advised governance teams not to panic—but to approach implementation of the new finance system “with missionary zeal.”
A radical notion
Gov. Brown, who championed this new system, says it’s based on the principal of “subsidiarity.” CSBA’s Assistant Executive Director for Governmental Relations Dennis Meyers defines the term this way: “It’s the radical notion that the people closest to the students should be making the big decisions about their education.”
After years of what critics have characterized as rigid, top-down micromanagement from state education policymakers, local governance teams apparently are finally getting the flexibility to assess what their students need most. They also have new authority to decide—with help from teachers, students, parents and other stakeholders—which strategies will work. The new local control comes with some important strings attached. Governance teams face more rigorous accountability requirements and must demonstrate that they’ve invested in programs and services that are boosting outcomes for targeted students.
“Now we have the state getting out of the way” and letting local governance teams set goals and priorities, says Meyers, who is confident that the State Board will do everything possible to preserve local flexibility as it crafts new LCFF regulations. “This is what we’ve wanted for years. Now we are seeing it all come together. And we’ve got all the right people in place at the state level to make sure it happens.”
LCFF also does away with some three dozen categorical programs that limited spending to specific services, and it jettisons the old revenue-limit system, which allocated money based on complex formulas that created problematic inequities in per-pupil funding between districts.
Instead, LCFF will award per-pupil base grants based on enrollment and additional grants for those targeted groups: English learners, children from low-income families and students in foster care. Each student can only be counted in one group, however; an English learner who’s a foster child in a low-income family will only factor once into the formula—a concept captured in the bureaucratic term “unduplicated counts.” LEAs that serve populations where more than 55 percent of students are members of any of these three groups will also receive a concentration grant for every student above that 55 percent threshold.
Governance teams must make sure they have active parent advisory committees—and advisory committees for the parents of English learners in LEAs where 15 percent or more of students are learning English. Boards must work with these committees—and with other specified groups, including students, other parents and teachers—when drawing up local accountability plans with specific performance goals for targeted students, and they must hold public hearings on both the budget and the accountability plans.
Local accountability plans “are designed to be very public, broad and aspirational,” says Burns, the Natomas Unified board member and CSBA staffer. “Governance teams need to start thinking about budgets in an entirely different way.”
“You have to stop thinking about pots of money,” she adds. “Instead ask, ‘What are we going to do for these students? How are we going invest this money to close the achievement gap?’ ”
“LCFF requires governance teams to involve parents and communities to provide input and support to reach the transformational outcomes related to closing the achievement gap. Governance teams must extend their outreach beyond those parents who regularly attend school board meetings,” says Angelo Williams, Ed.D., CSBA’s assistant executive director for Policy and Programs.
“True outreach must elicit support from communities to partner with schools for the long-term proposition of student success. This outreach should include other groups like community, regional and statewide foundations who share the goal of helping students succeed and who are willing to share the wealth of grant dollars with school boards and districts focused on closing the achievement gap.”
Burns says LEAs can build on existing parent engagement efforts.
“You can certainly start with your parent and English learner advisory committees if these groups are already in place,” she says. “But if your EL advisory committee only has one Spanish-speaking member who attends meetings regularly, you’ll need a new committee.”
Burns recommends that governance teams hold public forums now to explain what’s known so far about the new financing plan and discuss how members of the community can get involved in setting priorities, identifying unmet student needs and finding the best strategies to boost achievement. The www.csba.org/LCFF toolkit can help organize those forums.
Burns says governance teams will need to hone their multitasking skills.
“Everything’s happening at once: You’re setting your goals, you’re developing your policies, you’re filling out your accountability plan templates, you’re conducting outreach and holding public hearings,” she says. “LEAs must establish policies to implement their LCAPs by June 30, even while you’re working on your budget and the plan itself. So yes, it’s going to be a busy spring.”
No one is arguing that it’s going to be easy. But there’s plenty of help available—and not just in CSBA’s online toolkit. Public interest, civil rights and advocacy groups are scrambling to educate their constituents and encourage them to take part in local LCFF planning efforts. CSBA’s LCFF team suggests that LEAs reach out to these groups for help recruiting advisory committee members and spreading the word about the need to participate in public hearings.
“The LCAP process has purposely included those groups that have felt excluded,” says CSBA General Counsel Keith J. Bray. “These are some of the groups that have been advocating for equity and funding for targeted groups of students—students who have traditionally been left behind.”
Know and own your data
When developing accountability plans and budgets that must align spending to specific outcomes for students, it’s crucial that governance teams get a handle on what the data say about the performance of various subgroups of students. Policy and Programs Officer Julie Maxwell-Jolly, Ph.D., a specialist in bilingual education, advises district and county office boards to “know and own your data.”
“You’re going to need to dig deeper, find the subgroups within the subgroups,” she says. “Within your African American student subgroup, for example, we know that African American males are especially at risk. Within the English learner group, break out EL newcomers and long-term students.”
Armed with specific student performance data, governance teams can pinpoint unmet needs and invest in services tailored to meet them.
Maxwell-Jolly also says it’s critical that LEAs understand which of their district, county and school programs are working, which show promise, and which should be scrapped for something better. Governance teams also need to look at how they are investing human capital.
“Know your human resource allocations,” she says. “Are your best teachers working with students who are struggling most? Do you have teachers and administrators who are familiar with the needs of these students?”
She urges governance teams to also study the research on effective instructional strategies and services. “There’s a lot we do know about what works,” she says, “programs like full-service community schools; high-quality preschool, summer and after-school programs; and culturally relevant teaching strategies.”
Be patient and get it right
Maxwell-Jolly is not minimizing the scope of the challenge. “You all know that closing the achievement gap is hard,” she tells audiences at CSBA’s LCFF workshops. “You’ve been working on it for years.”
As the education community embarks on this new adventure, LCFF experts stress that no one expects this work to be finished overnight. CSBA Senior Director Burns says LEAs must be patient and take the time to get things right. “The state has made it very clear that this is a transition year,” she says. “No one will come after you with a hammer.”
In her Back-to-School Webcast comments, Burr assured viewers that she and her colleagues on the State Board will give LEAs time to enact their reforms. “I think we have to resist for at least the first couple of years the urge to do too much tinkering until we know how this rolls out,” she said.
“I believe this to my core: Every school district wants to do what’s best on behalf of every one of their students. This program puts in place that deep engagement with all the community and puts in place what every good district has been doing, which is to tie these resources to their priorities.”
Carol Brydolf (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a staff writer for California Schools.