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Great expectations, limited funds 

Winter 2013

Thanks to passage of Proposition 30 and an improving state economy, most of California’s local educational agencies are finally seeing modest increases in state funding after years of devastating cuts. The new money coincides with the launch of the state’s Local Control Funding Formula that dramatically changes the way the state pays for public schools, and gives governance teams unprecedented flexibility to invest money where they decide it’s needed most.

The new money and flexibility are putting governance teams in the eye of what CSBA General Counsel Keith J. Bray calls a “perfect storm” of competing interests—all with their own ideas about the best uses for a very limited amount of funding.

“Most districts will get more money than in previous years,” Bray says. “But you’ve got to specify what actions you’ll take to achieve specific goals and tie those decisions to the budget.”

Governance teams need to ensure their constituents understand that although LCFF comes with great flexibility and ambitious goals, most LEAs are not getting significant funding increases. There won’t be enough money to accomplish all LCFF goals, at least initially.

“It’s important that people understand that the numbers you see in the charts about LCFF grants are just targets,” says Dennis Meyers, CSBA’s assistant executive director for Governmental Relations. “LEAs are not getting enormous amounts of additional funds to do this work.” Meyers acknowledges that some districts that see increases may still be cutting because the increases are not keeping pace with costs or because of declining enrollment.

Full funding 8 years away

The state’s LCFF plan calls for gradually phasing in full funding over the next eight years, and there are no guarantees that the state will stick to that timeline. “If the economy doesn’t meet projections, it could take longer,” says Meyers.

Even if the state “fully” funds LCFF by 2020-21, the increases will only bring state spending on public schools to 2007-08 levels.

That’s hardly a windfall. 

“In all these public discussions we’re missing the point,” says CSBA Immediate Past President Jill Wynns, a board member in the San Francisco Unified School District. “This is a shamefully small amount of money. We have to keep reminding people that we’re 49th in the nation in per-pupil spending.”

Meyers agrees. “These increases have nothing to do with adequacy. You need your community to know exactly how much money you will be getting.”

It will be difficult, but governance teams need to refrain from making any financial commitments until they have designed their Local Control and Accountability Plans.

“What we do know is that there isn’t enough money to do everything that needs to be done,” Meyers says. “Don’t lock in any spending commitments yet.”

People power

LCFF requires governance teams to demonstrate that they’ve included parents, students, teachers and other members of their communities in key decisions, and to involve them in designing local accountability plans for every LEA and school. Those plans must show exactly how money earmarked to meet the needs of foster children, students from low-income families and English learners is benefitting these students.

“You are going to have to align your budgets with the priorities you set in your LCAPs,” says Natomas Unified School District board member Teri Burns, CSBA’s senior director for Policy and Programs.

Public interest, civil rights, advocacy and employee groups are certain to show up for public meetings on the LCFF armed with passionate but divergent recommendations for the best ways to invest LCFF funds. Groups like the California State PTA, Children Now and the ACLU are encouraging members to make their voices heard at local school board meetings and public hearings.

Governance teams should also expect employee unions, sometimes representing members who haven’t had raises in years, to advocate that funding increases go toward salaries and benefits.

In addition, boards will probably hear from parents who want to restore programs that were cut during the recession.

“We know there is lots of pent-up demand for raises and improved health benefits,” Bray says. “You will also have other stakeholders with ideas about how to spend the money, and you will come under a lot of pressure to make decisions now.”

CSBA Assistant Executive Director for Policy and Programs Angelo Williams, Ed.D., says governance teams can expect some spirited public sessions. “You are going to come under a lot of pressure, but you won’t have the money to make everyone happy. You need to know exactly what your resources are and what you can afford.”

—Carol Brydolf