Budget & Finance

In Calif., Districts and Advocates Make Case on Rules for Funding Needy Students

By Lesli A. Maxwell — January 16, 2014 3 min read
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Precisely how to divvy up billions of extra dollars meant to support California’s poorest students and its large population of English-language learners is the subject of lively debate today at the state board of education meeting in Sacramento.

Hundreds of speakers are expected to weigh in on the board’s proposed rules for how the state’s new funding formula for public schools should work. The Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF, scraps many of the state’s long-standing categorical funding programs and boosts state aid for districts with certain percentages of English-language learners, poor children, and students who live in foster care.

The funding scheme—pushed through the Legislature by Gov. Jerry Brown—will be phased in gradually until 2020 and also will slowly raise overall state aid levels for K-12. (Andrew Ujifusa has a good explanatory story about the proposed rules for the LCFF in this week’s issue of Education Week.)

Though the entire education sphere in California is in agreement about the overall intent and goals of the formula, camps have formed around how exactly the money ought to be spent once it reaches local districts.

District leaders and local administrators are pleading for some flexibility in how the funds are spent, while advocates for English-learners, foster youth, and low-income students want guarantees that the extra monies are spent in the most targeted ways for those groups of students.

State board members were prepared to hear from hundreds of speakers today—as of noon Pacific time, more than 100 had already said their piece.

The first speaker was Assemblymember Shirley Weber, a Democrat from the San Diego area and a member of the legislative black caucus. She said that regulations must prevent giving districts complete latitude to spread LCFF monies broadly across their systems. She cited, as one example, districts that would use their LCFF funds to develop schoolwide summer school programs.

A long series of superintendents, local school board presidents, and other representatives of school systems around California used their single minute of public testimony time to urge state board members to adopt the proposed rules, as they place the responsibility for how to spend state education aid closer to the students.

Memo Mendez, a school board member in the 21,000-student Jurupa school district in Southern California, noted that achievement has been on the rise in the district because of efforts to target all low-performing students, not by just targeting a narrower slice of that category. He said as written, the proposed regulations would give Jurupa the flexibility to maintain that focus and strategy.

On the advocacy side, representatives from groups such as Children Now and the American Civil Liberties Union spoke favorably about the regulations, but asked state board members to tighten rules around how funds can be spent on districtwide and schoolwide initiatives that don’t specifically target students most in need.

Martha Zaragoza-Diaz, with the ELL-advocacy group Californians Together, told the board that the regulations as written could have the unintended consequence of districts using their federal Title I and Title III dollars for general purposes, rather than for services that target low-income (Title I) and English-learners (Title III) as required by federal law.

Gov. Brown also appeared to weigh in, reminding the board that the best decisions on how to support students most in need are made by those closest to them.

To watch hours more of the testimony in real time, you can follow along with the California education department’s live webcast.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.