School districts appreciate local control, fiscal flexibility

In his column, “Brown’s big school plan gets 3rd rap” (Capitol & California, Dec. 17), Dan Walters takes aim at California’s new education finance system, the Local Control Funding Formula. He points to the results of three studies and asserts that, without tighter state regulation, districts are likely to subvert the intent of the LCFF. One of the studies he cites is ours. Unfortunately, Walters misrepresents our findings.

The Local Control Funding Formula empowers school districts to determine how to allocate dollars to best meet their students’ needs; it provides money to expand programs and services for low-income students, English language learners and foster youth; and, it requires that districts engage parents and other education stakeholders in setting spending priorities. In exchange for greater fiscal freedom, districts are held accountable for state and local education goals and for raising the achievement of all students, especially those in the three target groups.

We led a team of 12 independent researchers from a variety of organizations in a study of early implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula. From June to October 2014, the team interviewed dozens of school district and county office of education officials to gain their perspective on LCFF opportunities and challenges. Our findings were published in October.

What did our study reveal? We found great enthusiasm for local control. Districts appreciate their newfound fiscal flexibility and the opportunity it affords them to align resources with needs. They take seriously their twin obligations to spend dollars wisely and provide added support to students most in need. We found good-faith efforts on the part of most districts to engage parents in the complex budget-building process.

Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. The Local Control Funding Formula is a work in progress. Some districts developed spending plans with the state’s goals squarely in mind; others are using this year’s dollars to backfill programs and services cut during the great recession. Some districts successfully involved parents in budget development; others need to burnish the community outreach skills requisite to broad parent engagement.

What is districts’ biggest concern about the LCFF? It is that the state will renege on its commitment to local control and add new rules and mandates before the LCFF has had a chance to prove itself.

Julia E. Koppich, a San Francisco-based education consultant, is president of J. Koppich & Associates. Daniel C. Humphrey is a senior researcher for SRI

International’s Center for Education Policy.