Gov. Jerry Brown’s historic overhaul of school finances is still very much a work in progress, and resistance to how it’s being implemented appears to be building.
The “Local Control Finance Formula,” as it’s awkwardly called, is aimed at closing the persistent “achievement gap” among poor, English-learner and foster care students.
Dubbed “high-needs,” they comprise more than 60 percent of California’s 6 million K-12 students.
LCFF provides base grants to districts for all their students, plus a 20 percent per-pupil bonus for each high-needs student and 50 percent “concentration” bonuses for districts with 55 percent or more of their students in a targeted category.
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A coalition of civil rights and school reform groups, recently joined by the Legislature’s Black Caucus, complains that there are too few specific requirements that the extra money be spent on improving educations of high-needs students.
Without such standards, and a mechanism to enforce them, the groups fear that the money will be diffused into other purposes, such as salary increases for teachers and other employees.
Brown and his top education adviser, Board of Education president Michael Kirst, have resisted pressure to increase state oversight, saying they trust that implementation plans being written by districts and parental pressure will ensure that money is spent effectively.
Rebuffed by the board, the critics have now turned to the Legislature, urging in hearings that the implementation standards they seek be written into the state budget’s LCFF allocation.
As that issue plays itself out, districts with large numbers of high-needs students that fall below the 55 percent threshold for “concentration grants” are also ramping up demands for change, saying the current system is unfair.
A recent Public Policy Institute of California study estimated that there are as many as 200,000 high-needs students whose districts don’t qualify for concentration grants and who, therefore, may not receive the same kind of special attention that those in other districts will get.
Applying the formula to individual schools, rather than entire districts, would address that issue.
However, such a modification, sought by impacted districts, also would undercut the governor’s insistence on district-level calculations and implementation. Administration officials have said that school-level allocation would encourage districts to maximize aid by manipulating attendance boundaries.
Both campaigns for changes in the LCFF will intensify as the Legislature moves closer to writing a 2015-16 budget that includes at least several billion more dollars in state aid under the distribution formula.
They could become sticking points if the Legislature heeds the critics and writes language that Brown clearly doesn’t want, and also could wind up in the courts.
Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, sacbee.com/dan-walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.