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


Stakeholder Engagement Leads to Improvements in Proposed Spending Rules for New School Funding Formula

January 13, 2014

What a difference stakeholder participation makes. On January 3, the State Board of Education (SBE) released a revised set of regulations (.DOC) that define how schools can spend dollars provided under the state’s new education funding formula, the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). These regulations represent a reworking of the preliminary draft regulations that the SBE had reviewed in November, which fell far short in terms of ensuring that dollars allocated for disadvantaged students would be spent to support them. As we blogged about previously, stakeholders raised serious concerns about the preliminary draft regulations, and their feedback appears to have yielded significant improvements. This Thursday, the SBE will meet to consider the revised regulations (.DOC), which must be adopted by the end of the month, and will also review a proposed template for the Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs) that all California school districts must adopt by July 1.

How do the revised spending regulations and the LCAP template improve on the preliminary draft regulations from November? Most importantly, the revised regulations provide a formula that school districts must use to specifically determine how much they must spend each year to demonstrate that they are increasing or improving services for disadvantaged students. Moreover, the LCAP template appears to require that districts report how they plan to increase and/or improve services for disadvantaged students in comparison to the services provided to all students.

These are welcome improvements. It should be noted, however, that the revised regulations do not explicitly require school districts to report how they spend LCFF dollars allocated for disadvantaged students in a way that allows easy comparison to a baseline. As a result, it may be difficult for community members, parents, and other stakeholders to assess whether these LCFF dollars are actually spent to support the students for whom they are intended.

Still, despite this shortcoming in the revised regulations, SBE staff and the many stakeholders who provided input during the past several months deserve a great deal of credit for their efforts in reworking the draft spending regulations and creating the proposed LCAP template. The clear lesson to be learned from the process that led to improved LCFF regulations is that stakeholder engagement is valuable and can truly work. Once the SBE approves LCFF spending regulations and the LCAP template, such engagement at the local level will be key. Continued stakeholder engagement will be necessary to ensure not only that local school districts use LCFF dollars to support the students who need them most, but also that schools’ experiences provide the basis for a robust, ongoing discussion about how best to fulfill the promise of the state’s new education funding formula.

— Jonathan Kaplan


Requiring Clear Baseline and Transparency Is Key in Crafting Rules for New School Funding Formula

December 19, 2013

Update: The State Board of Education initially planned to post the agenda materials for its January 2014 meeting on December 20, but has delayed that release until January 3, 2014. This blog post has been updated to reflect that change.

Last summer, when the Governor and Legislature approved California’s new education funding formula, the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), they deferred to the State Board of Education (SBE) key decisions regarding accountability — specifically, how to ensure that school districts spend LCFF dollars to provide additional services for disadvantaged students. The Legislature set a January 31, 2014 deadline for the SBE to adopt regulations for how schools can spend LCFF dollars. At the core of the debate regarding these regulations is how to strike a critical balance: ensuring that LCFF dollars are spent to support the disadvantaged students for whom they are intended while providing school districts more authority over how to spend those dollars.

On Friday, January 3, the SBE will post the agenda for its next meeting, scheduled for January 15 and 16, 2014, at which the SBE will need to approve regulations in order to meet the legislative deadline. As we blogged about before, the preliminary draft spending regulations released earlier this year provided far too much discretion to school districts — so much so that these regulations likely would have undermined the LCFF’s goal of addressing the inequities in the former school finance system. Other stakeholders also shared this concern. When the SBE reviewed the draft regulations at its meeting in early November, it inspired nearly five hours of public testimony by more than 180 people. Among them was Senator Holly Mitchell, who echoed the sentiments of many others when she expressed alarm that the draft regulations did not live up to the spirit of the LCFF law.

It appears that the public outcry over the preliminary draft spending regulations made a difference. Last week, the consultant advising the SBE — WestEd — released a paper (PDF) outlining key issues they had identified based on public comments made at last month’s SBE meeting. They also released a draft of the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) template (PDF) that districts will use to demonstrate compliance with SBE spending regulations. As part of this release, WestEd indicated that the revised regulations and the LCAP “will reflect significant changes based on the provided input” from the November SBE meeting.

In light of the shortcomings of the preliminary regulations, this is encouraging. However, stakeholders who want to ensure that LCFF dollars allocated for disadvantaged students are actually used to support these students should focus on whether the regulations adopted by the SBE abide by two important principles: establishing a baseline and ensuring transparency.

  • Establishing a baseline: The first key issue reported in the WestEd paper states that school districts need to spend more money in order to demonstrate they are increasing or improving services for disadvantaged students. A related concern reported by WestEd highlights the need to define “a methodology for calculating” a proportional increase in funding for these students. However, their paper does not indicate that the SBE will establish a baseline to gauge whether school districts have increased spending to support disadvantaged students. If schools are not required to adhere to such a baseline, it will be difficult to determine whether additional LCFF dollars provided for disadvantaged students are actually used to support them. The proposed LCAP template would require school districts to list and describe the spending needed to meet goals identified in their LCAPs. But the SBE should go further and explicitly require school districts to annually show how schools spent base, supplemental, and concentration grants generated by disadvantaged students in a way that can be easily compared to the baseline amount spent to support these students.
  • Ensuring transparency: A key objective of the LCFF is to increase accountability so that local education stakeholders can ensure that student needs drive the allocation of resources. For stakeholders to have the information needed to make this assessment, school district spending and revenue data must be reported in a timely manner and in a format that is easily understood and that can be readily obtained by stakeholders in multiple languages. Moreover, to allow for comparisons among districts, the SBE should require a standard methodology for school district reporting of spending and revenue data. Fortunately, school districts already report expenditures and revenues based on an accounting manual that allows for transparency and comparability. But currently, these data are only reported to the state and in a format that is difficult for the public to access or understand. The SBE should adopt spending regulations that require school districts to post this accounting data online in a timely manner and in a format the public can easily obtain and comprehend.

The January SBE meeting, with the expected adoption of the spending regulations, is a critical moment for implementation of California’s new school funding formula. While the delayed release of the agenda materials leaves little time for public comment, education stakeholders should heed the upcoming meeting — and the period preceding it — as an opportunity to provide input on the proposed regulations. Ultimately, what’s at stake is to what degree LCFF dollars are spent to support the disadvantaged students who need them the most.

— Jonathan Kaplan


Proposed Accountability Regulations for New School Funding Formula Come Up Short

November 6, 2013

Tomorrow, the State Board of Education (SBE) will hold a crucial meeting to review proposed regulations for California’s new education funding formula. The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), signed into law by Governor Brown this past July, provides school districts additional dollars based on their number of disadvantaged students — English learners, foster youth, and students from low-income families. As we’ve blogged about before, the Legislature deferred key decisions regarding accountability — specifically, how to ensure that school districts spend LCFF dollars to provide additional services for disadvantaged students — to the SBE. However, the LCFF legislation did stipulate that the SBE adopt regulations that require school districts to “increase or improve services for [disadvantaged] pupils in proportion to the increase in funds apportioned on the basis of the number and concentration of [disadvantaged] pupils in the school district.” As a result, the rules the SBE establishes will be critical to holding school districts accountable for spending LCFF dollars to support the disadvantaged students for whom these dollars are intended.

Advocates for disadvantaged students are justifiably concerned about the draft regulations the SBE will review tomorrow. After months of debate over how to balance local school district authority over education spending with the need for strong accountability provisions that ensure LCFF dollars are spent to support disadvantaged students, the proposed regulations in their current form provide far too much discretion to school districts — so much so that it would likely undermine the LCFF’s goal of addressing the inequities in the former school finance system.

Under the proposed regulations, school districts could choose among three ways of demonstrating “increased or improved services.” They could spend more, provide more, or achieve more for disadvantaged students. Advocates have strongly objected to including the “achieve more” option, given that it would do nothing to ensure increased or improved services for disadvantaged students. In fact, the “achieve more” standard as currently crafted in the proposed regulations could allow school districts to fulfill their obligations under the LCFF without spending additional money or providing additional resources for English learners, foster youth, and students from low-income families. In addition, the proposed regulations do not adequately clarify how to measure whether school districts actually spend more money or provide additional services for the students for whom LCFF dollars are intended. In short, by giving school districts so much latitude, the proposed regulations leave open the possibility that dollars meant for disadvantaged students would not go toward supporting them.

Under the LCFF legislation, the SBE has until January 31, 2014 to adopt the spending regulations, and it is likely that the Board will vote on these regulations at its meeting in January. This means that tomorrow’s meeting may be the only opportunity for SBE members to request revisions to the proposed regulations.

Anyone interested in equity in school funding — and in ensuring that LCFF dollars are spent to support disadvantaged students — should pay close attention to tomorrow’s meeting to see whether members of the SBE show any interest in revising the proposed regulations. If they do not, the LCFF’s promise of correcting the inequities in the state’s former education finance system may not be realized.

— Jonathan Kaplan