Missing the Mark on Transparency: State Board Set to Approve Spending Rules for New Education Funding Formula

November 13, 2014

After several meetings and much debate over the past year, the State Board of Education (SBE) is expected to finalize rules tomorrow that will govern school district spending in California for years to come. When Governor Brown and the Legislature created California’s new education funding formula, the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), in July of 2013 they deferred to the SBE key decisions regarding accountability — specifically, how to ensure that school districts spend LCFF dollars to provide additional services for disadvantaged students. Earlier this year, the SBE adopted emergency regulations for how schools could spend LCFF dollars in 2013-14. These temporary rules inspired a spirited debate that led to tomorrow’s expected adoption by the SBE of permanent LCFF spending regulations. At the core of this debate has been how to strike the balance between ensuring that LCFF dollars are used to support the disadvantaged students for whom they are intended and providing school districts more authority over how to spend those dollars. The proposed permanent regulations the SBE is likely to adopt tomorrow both gives school districts greater latitude over how to spend LCFF dollars and requires them to show less about how they spend those dollars than many advocates for disadvantaged students had wanted.

The law establishing the LCFF required the SBE to adopt regulations that govern the spending of dollars intended to support disadvantaged students as well as a template for a Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), which school districts must use to show compliance with LCFF spending rules. During the past several months, the SBE has held hearings on the proposed spending regulations and the LCAP template. In response to extensive public comment and testimony, the Board made several improvements to the regulations, such as requiring a higher level of student participation in the development of LCAPs. However, although advocates for disadvantaged students had called for greater transparency, the SBE is expected to adopt regulations tomorrow that will make it difficult for education stakeholders to know whether school districts meet the requirement to use LCFF dollars generated by disadvantaged students to increase or improve services for these students.

As we blogged about in advance of the first meeting where the SBE took action on LCFF’s spending rules, we believe the regulations should have abided by two important principles: establishing a baseline and ensuring transparency. For stakeholders to understand the extent to which LCFF dollars are used to support disadvantaged students, the regulations should require school districts to clearly report a baseline spending level. While the regulations the SBE is expected to adopt tomorrow do require school districts to use prior-year spending on disadvantaged students as a starting point for estimating the level of support going forward, they do not require transparent reporting of this baseline level of spending. Unfortunately, the SBE rejected requests for this basic level of transparency in its response to comments that had been submitted by several advocates for disadvantaged students. As a result, local stakeholder engagement will be critical to ensure that the LCFF dollars generated by disadvantaged students are used to support them. For example, parent advisory committees could use the requirement that school districts respond in writing to their requests for information — during the process of adopting or updating LCAPs — in order to get information on the local use of LCFF dollars.

The next stage of LCFF rulemaking requires the SBE to adopt evaluation rubrics to assess school district and schoolsite performance based on standards established by the SBE. The Legislature required the SBE to adopt evaluation rubrics by October 1, 2015, and the Board has already established a process for receiving feedback. Hopefully, the decisions made in developing the evaluation rubrics will provide education stakeholders the information they need to know whether the LCFF is fulfilling the promise to improve education for the disadvantaged students who need those improvements the most.

— Jonathan Kaplan


Transparency Still Missing in the New K-12 School Funding Formula

September 3, 2014

Once again California’s new funding formula for K-12 schools — the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) — will be the focus of the State Board of Education (SBE) meeting tomorrow in Sacramento. As at its prior meeting in July, the SBE will review proposed changes to regulations they adopted this past January that govern LCFF spending. These include changes to what school districts must report in their Local Control and Accountability Plans, or LCAPs. All California school districts were required to adopt LCAPs by July 1 using a template the SBE approved earlier this year. In response to comments made by students, the SBE improved the LCFF regulations since its last meeting by specifically calling for greater student participation in the development of school district LCAPs. However, key issues remain, including whether school districts will be required to transparently report how much they spent to support disadvantaged students in 2013-14.

As we have blogged about previously, it is critical that the SBE adopt regulations that require school districts to clearly report a baseline spending level so that stakeholders can gauge the extent to which school districts are increasing or improving services to support disadvantaged students. While the regulations adopted by the SBE in January do require school districts to use prior-year spending on disadvantaged students as a starting point for estimating the level of support going forward, they do not require transparent reporting of this baseline level of spending. Unfortunately, the SBE rejected requests for this basic level of transparency in its most recent responses to comments submitted by education advocates.

The SBE is likely to adopt permanent regulations later this year, and those rules, as well as the LCAP template, will determine what LCFF spending school districts are required to report — and how they are required to report it — for years to come. After tomorrow’s SBE meeting, the public will have through September 22 to submit comments on proposed changes to the regulations and the LCAP template. All concerned about transparency in LCFF spending should use that period to engage in the process and let their voices be heard.

— Jonathan Kaplan


An Opportunity to Improve Transparency in the New K-12 School Funding Formula?

July 9, 2014

Tomorrow’s State Board of Education (SBE) meeting in Sacramento will focus on California’s new funding formula for K-12 schools — the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). The SBE will review proposed changes to the regulations they adopted this past January that govern LCFF spending and stipulate the information school districts must report in their Local Control and Accountability Plans, or LCAPs. All California school districts were required to adopt an LCAP by July 1 using a template that was developed and approved by the SBE earlier this year. Tomorrow’s meeting will review changes that the SBE is proposing to both the spending regulations and the LCAP template in response to more than 2,000 written comments the State Board received this spring. The SBE plans to adopt permanent regulations later this year and those rules, as well as the LCAP template, will determine how school districts are required to report LCFF spending for years to come.

It is critical that the SBE adopt regulations that require school districts to clearly report two pieces of information, so that stakeholders can gauge whether districts are increasing or improving services to support disadvantaged students: 1) a baseline level of spending used to support disadvantaged students in 2013-14; and 2) for each year after 2013-14, the amount spent in the prior year to support disadvantaged students. While the regulations adopted by the SBE in January do require school districts to use prior-year spending on disadvantaged students as a starting point for estimating the level of support going forward, they do not require transparent reporting of this spending level.

On Monday’s KQED Forum program, I had the chance to join SBE President Michael Kirst and others in discussing implementation of the new funding formula. President Kirst suggested during this conversation that the State Board may be willing to require school districts to transparently report how much they spent to support disadvantaged students in a prior year. By establishing a clear, easy-to-understand baseline, such a change would be a welcome step toward improving transparency and enabling stakeholders to understand whether LCFF dollars are being used to support disadvantaged students.

After tomorrow’s SBE meeting, the public will have through July 28 to submit comments on proposed changes to the regulations and the LCAP template. All Californians concerned about making LCFF spending more transparent should use that period to engage in the process and let their voices be heard.

— Jonathan Kaplan


Op-Ed: Keeping the Promise of the New School Funding Formula

June 3, 2014

Today, the Sacramento Bee featured an op-ed from CBP Senior Policy Analyst Jonathan Kaplan, which points to the need for greater transparency in California’s new system of K-12 school funding — the “Local Control Funding Formula” (LCFF). Almost one year since the new funding formula was enacted, this year’s budget negotiations could determine whether education stakeholders have access to easy-to-understand information about how school districts use LCFF dollars. As stated in the op-ed:

In the coming days, legislators and the governor will make crucial decisions about transparency. The issue at hand is whether districts will be required to report the amount they receive through the new formula to support disadvantaged students and — more importantly — how they use those dollars to benefit them. If state policymakers do not require this basic level of accounting, it will be very difficult for local stakeholders to answer some key questions about how the new funding formula is working.

The full op-ed is available on the Sacramento Bee’s website.

— Steven Bliss


K-12 Education in the Governor’s Proposed 2014-15 Budget: Increased Revenues Boost Funding for Schools

January 31, 2014

California’s public schools educate a large, diverse student population, with over 6 million students enrolled in more than 1,000 school districts statewide.

A new CBP analysis — the latest in a series of briefs on Governor Brown’s 2014-15 proposed budget — looks at state spending on K-12 education and discusses how higher revenues have boosted funding for California K-12 schools, increasing spending per student to nearly the pre-recession level. In addition, the Governor’s proposal would increase support provided through the state’s new school funding formula approved by policymakers last year.

This CBP brief also discusses how, over the long term, it will take additional state revenues for California to make the necessary investments in students and their families.

For additional analysis on the Governor’s proposed 2014-15 budget, read the CBP’s initial analysis of the proposal and our recent brief on child care and preschool in the the proposed budget.

— Steven Bliss