It’s not exactly three strikes and you’re out, but neither is the third time a charm for Gov. Jerry Brown’s landmark overhaul of public school finance and governance.
A third major research organization has examined how Brown’s “Local Control Funding Formula” is being implemented and found it wanting.
LCFF, adopted in 2013, eliminated many specific pots of school money, expanded overall state aid to K-12 school districts, directed extra money to raise the academic achievements of poor and/or “English learner” students, and required that local school officials write plans, with input from parents and others, to achieve its goals.
Previously, the Public Policy Institute of California criticized how the local accountability provisions were being implemented, saying they “fail to create a coherent set of objectives (and) may create more confusion than clarity.”
SRI International echoed those criticisms in its study by a team of education academics. It found great confusion among local school officials on how they should account for the extra dollars and write accountability plans. It also questioned how the overall success or failure of LCFF will be judged.
The third major examination of LCFF was conducted by Oakland-based Ed Trust-West, which advocates for improving educations of poor and/or non-white students, and it reflects, in the main, criticisms from the other two.
Ed Trust-West interviewed local school officials and community leaders and examined dozens of the Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs) that are supposed to guide how the new money is to be spent on the stated goals.
It found enthusiasm for LCFF’s twin premises of more money for underachieving students and more local control, but wide disparity in how local schools are approaching their implementation and some structural flaws, especially in the state-mandated “template” that districts are using to write their LCAPs.
“In most LCAPs it is not possible to trace how supplemental and concentration grants (for poor and English-learner students) are being used, much less how they fit with federal dollars intended to serve these same students,” the report said.
“It is even more problematic that so many LCAPs fail to link a district’s goals to its actions.”
Ed Trust-West also found that during the first year of LCFF, when even rudimentary state guidelines were lacking, many districts simply used the new money for salary raises, deferred maintenance and other purposes.
All three groups are generally supportive of LCFF’s concept. But their reports fuel suspicions that without tighter oversight and objective measures of progress, districts may comply on paper but, under pressure from unions and other interests, subtly divert new money that’s meant to be concentrated effectively on kids who need a leg up.
Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, sacbee.com/dan-walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.