Friday, January 17, 2014


4 stories

Big changes to California's school-funding rules are approved

The new system allots more money to schools with disadvantaged students and empowers local educators to decide how to use the funds, as long as needy students are among those who benefit.

By Teresa Watanabe, LA Times  |

January 16, 2014, 8:28 p.m.  ::  State education officials pushed forward sweeping changes to public school funding Thursday, approving rules to give more money to needy students and more power to local educators to decide how to use the dollars.

At a daylong state Board of Education meeting, more than 300 speakers underscored tensions over the need to balance newfound flexible spending authority with assurances that the money will be used to improve services for students who are from low-income homes, learning English or in foster care.

More than 30 civil rights and community organizations urged the board to add requirements that districts with large numbers of disadvantaged students must "principally" use the money on specific services for them. The draft regulations had allowed districts where needy students make up at least 55% of pupils to use the extra funding for any purpose so long as they benefited the disadvantaged, such as buying tablet computers districtwide.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) said plans to restore districtwide summer school, for instance, rather than targeting the aid to specific students at their particular schools, would not reflect the spirit of the new funding law.

"We run the unfortunate risk of funds being diluted and going to students of less need," Weber said.

But the 11-member board unanimously passed the rules as written, giving schools a road map to begin crafting spending plans for the 2014-15 school year. Board President Michael Kirst said the community concerns would be addressed as the process begins to adopt permanent regulations for subsequent years.

The new system represents the most dramatic change in four decades in how California schools are funded. It gives all schools an average base grant of $7,643 per pupil, with an extra 20% boost for each disadvantaged student and an additional grant for those who attend schools where at least 55% of students are low-income, learning English or in foster care.

Gov. Jerry Brown first proposed the change in 2012; the Legislature initially rejected it but approved it last June.

During the eight-hour Sacramento meeting, a long parade of district leaders, including L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy, urged board members to trust them with expanded local control and described efforts to reach out to parents and community members for input on how to use the money.

Long Beach Unified, for example, has formed a 69-member committee representing educators, parents and community members to work on a plan; the district has posted all meetings online and has solicited 13,000 spending ideas.

L.A. Unified has collected more than 10,000 responses to surveys on the new system, conducted town hall meetings and is putting together advisory committees on the district's spending plan, Deasy told board members. The district has also worked to collect input with the California Endowment, the state's largest health foundation, which organized 12 forums drawing more than 1,600 people to weigh in on their desires for the new system.

The rules "strike the right balance between empowering districts to work with their communities to decide what's best for our students, and ensuring that our investments prioritize the neediest children," Deasy said.

The governor also weighed in, telling board members that "minute prescriptive commands from headquarters" don't work as well as local decisions.

"We don't want to micromanage.… We want to give wide latitude to teach and to explore and light that fire in every student," Brown said.

Among other things, the new rules lay out how districts must calculate their spending increases on needy students and report efforts to boost their academic performance, parent outreach and other state priorities.

Mary Lou Fulton of the California Endowment hailed the effort but said improvements were still needed, along with close monitoring, to "make sure that school districts stay true to the letter and spirit of the law."

State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson cautioned that it would take some time for the new system to work out its kinks.

"Because it's a historic shift," he said, "it can be a bit rough and tough at times."

State Board patiently listens, then quickly passes regs for funding law

By John Fensterwald, EdSource |

January 16th, 2014  ::  After listening to nearly seven hours of 1-minute testimonies that were impassioned, instructive and inevitably repetitious, the State Board of Education, after little debate, unanimously approved temporary regulations Thursday fleshing out a historic education finance law. The new Local Control Funding Formula will not only transform how K-12 schools are funded, but also how student success is measured, and district budgets, with community involvement, are created.

While the latest draft was passed intact, the regulations had gone through substantial revisions over the past five months, as staff of the State Board sought to bridge the disagreements between civil rights and parents groups and school officials. Both sides acknowledged the final version was clearer and surprisingly close to consensus.

Saying he appreciated the work of the State Board and the staff, John Affeldt, managing attorney of Public Advocates, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization, said, “I didn’t think we would get this far. There has been significant movement and we must get on board together to give it a go.”

Nonetheless, Affeldt, the co-author of a letter signed by 30 civil rights and advocacy groups, and others continued to press for a handful of wording changes to guarantee that billions of dollars allocated for low-income students and students learning English would be spent directly on them to improve achievement. The most contentious change – more nuanced than drastic – would have forced districts to explicitly justify how using money allotted for high-needs students for districtwide purposes would have principally benefited those students.

Without this tighter restriction, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, told the State Board, “you run the unfortunate risk of diluting funds intended to go to students of needs.”

School administrators and school board members, on the other hand, urged the State Board not to make any changes. The regulations, they said, give 1,000 diverse school districts the latitude to do right by their high-needs students – and all low-performing students. Districts will be able to shift resources for high-needs students where they are most needed.

“I appreciate the simplicity and flexibility and ask you to maintain it,” Linda Wagner, superintendent of 19,000-student Anaheim City School District, said of the regulations. “Don’t mess it up with complications.”

Michael Hulsizer, chief deputy for government affairs with the Kern County Office of Education, said, “Locally elected board are in the best position to make the determination of what the services should look like. Your regulations do precisely that. Adopt as is.”

And Eric Premack, executive director of the Charter Schools Development Center, called the latest version “a reasonable compromise,”
adding, “Hold the line where you have come or it will be a state controlled funding formula instead of the local control funding formula.”

Hundreds come to speak

The hearing culminated unprecedented interest in a regulatory issue and public participation through dozens of meetings, hundreds of comments and emails in response to earlier drafts and calls for public suggestions. On Thursday, 326 speakers – students, parents, school board members, superintendents and leaders of a range of advocacy organizations – filled the boardroom or sat patiently for hours in chairs set up in the atrium of the State Department of Education. The superintendent of Morgan Hill Unified sent a contingent that included principals, teachers, a school board member, the head of the chamber of commerce, even the police chief as proof that the public engagement process is already working fine, thank you, and needs no more regulating.

Out-organized by advocates at the last State Board discussion on the regulations in November, the California School Boards Association and the Association of California School Administrators must have sent out an all-points bulletin. They set up a big tent in the park across the street to welcome the nearly 200 school board members and administrators from all over the state, from the biggest urban districts – Superintendent John Deasy of Los Angeles Unified and Christopher Steinhauser of Long Beach Unified – to some of the smallest, including Superintendent Roger Bylund of Paradise Unified in rural Butte County. High school students affiliated with The Campaign for Quality Education, a coalition of grassroots groups, warmed up by marching outside the building to a full-throated “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white.” A handful took their chants inside the boardroom with a brief interruption before being asked to leave.

Others, standing as equals with adults, each with an allotted minute, drew applause for articulate, heartfelt comments.

“After this board meeting today, all of us will be going home but we will not be tired,” said Gabby Ramirez, a 10th grader from Coachella Valley High School with the grassroots group PICO California. “We will be ready to devote our time, energy and faith to ensuring that LCFF lives up to its promise.”

Dolores Huerta, revered leader of the farmworker movement, was among the speakers. Huerta, 83, who cofounded the National Farmworkers Association, added her voice to those calling for stricter rules to make sure money for English learners and poor children “will go where it is intended.”

Quoting from Martin Luther King that “treating unequals equally is not equality,” Huerta told the board, “We have golden opportunity between your leadership, parents, community and schools, all working together to erase inequities we have. That could be the legacy of this board.”

Second bite of the apple

Thursday’s vote won’t end the debate or the board’s tinkering. In order to meet a deadline this month that the Legislature imposed, the State Board actually passed emergency regulations. The Board will immediately begin a six-month process of adopting permanent regulations that will be informed by how school districts respond to the new rules.

Board member Trish Williams said that while she was confident the majority of districts will capitalize on the new law’s potential, there will be problem districts that do not. “Let’s be on the alert for those districts and have a backstop for holding them accountable,” she said

“Some regulatory changes have merit and should be considered,” said State Board President Michael Kirst, an architect of the Local Control Funding Formula. “As Gov. Brown said, this is not the New Testament.”

The board approved two sets of regulations. One establishes a method for districts to calculate the amount of supplemental dollars allocated to high-needs students each year in the estimated eight-year transition period to full funding under the new system. It also lays out the terms for channeling money for school-wide or district-wide purposes.

The other set of regulations creates a template and lays out a transparent public engagement process that districts must follow in creating a detailed three-year document, called the Local Control and Accountability Plan or LCAP. The LCAP marks a fundamental shift in budgeting and decision making. It requires that districts establish school improvement and student achievement goals – preferably in response to extensive discussions with parents, students, teachers and community members – and then tie the goals to specific actions and spending. An example might be a commitment to extend the school day or to hire more counselors to improve the college-going rate for English learners.

Brian Lee, deputy director of the nonprofit Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California, urged the State Board to improve the organization of the LCAP to make it simpler for parents to use and easier for districts to administer by pre-populating data, as it already does with School Accountability Report Cards, to show how districts are meeting state priorities.

State Board member Ilene Straus, who monitored the LCAP proposal, said this was just the first iteration and the LCAP will be modified. Responding to parents’ testimony that the LCAP is vague on what constitutes true parent engagement – full translations, parent training in budgeting, adequate time to review proposals – Straus requested and the State Board approved asking staff to prepare guidelines and best practices to accompany the regulations and the LCAP template.

Included may be guidance for county offices of education on how to evaluate a district’s LCAP. The funding formula law gives county offices the authority to reject an inadequate LCAP but doesn’t say on what basis. Sarah Lillis, director of the EdVoice Institute, emphasized the need for that guidance in her testimony. “The county superintendents are the first line of defense for the state for protecting the constitutional right to a basic education. Counties need clear standards to review district plans,” she said.

Both the spending regulations and the LCAP will take effect July 1. Those districts that have been waiting for the State Board to act to begin involving parents and the community will now have 5½ months to create their LCAPs from scratch.

“I hope we are modeling today what engagement looks like,” State Board member Sue Burr told the audience at the hearing, “and the passion all of you bring happens at the local level.”

California Board of Education approves new school funding rules

By Loretta Kalb and Diana Lambert, Sacramento Bee |

Thurs, Jan. 16, 2014 - 10:56 pm /Last Modified: Fri, Jan. 17, 2014 - 12:16 am  ::  The California Board of Education approved emergency rules Thursday for a historic overhaul of school spending designed to direct money to the state’s neediest students.

The unanimous board vote followed a marathon Sacramento meeting in which more than 300 educators, civil rights advocates, parents, students and lawmakers made 11th-hour pitches for how districts should spend their money.

The funding formula proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown and approved by legislators last year gives districts additional dollars based on their share of low-income students, English-language learners and foster children. But the Democratic governor and lawmakers left it to the State Board of Education to establish the regulatory rules.

District administrators and civil rights advocates lobbied the board for months over how much leeway schools should have to spend money intended for disadvantaged children. School districts want flexibility to spend such money districtwide, but advocates fear that could dilute the intended impact and benefit more affluent children.

That would put the education system at risk of “doing a little bit for everybody and a whole lot for nobody,” said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a San Diego Democrat representing the Legislative Black Caucus.

A coalition of 30 education and advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Public Advocates and the Children’s Defense Fund in California, sought an amendment Thursday requiring that new funding be “principally directed toward serving students in need” and that the strategies for accomplishing that be proved effective, according to David Sapp, staff attorney for the ACLU.

The board ultimately approved rules without that change.

“They are emergency regulations,” Board President Michael Kirst said. “I believe we should explore the comments heard today ... rather than make changes on the fly without time to truly consider their potential impact and involve all stakeholders.”

State Board of Education Member Sue Burr called the vote a “Goldilocks decision ... It’s not too hot. It’s not too cold.”

Kevin Gordon, a longtime school district advocate, said the rules approved Thursday were already a compromise after months of discussion. He said districts can spend on schoolwide and districtwide programs, but they must demonstrate that it is the best way to help disadvantaged students.

Gordon said districts want the ability to “pursue solutions that will dramatically make a difference for the kids in these populations, but may also help other kids, too.”

He described a hypothetical program designed to reduce truancy. A district might determine that calling parents frequently can have a dramatic impact on reducing absences among low-income students, but it would not make sense to purposely ignore middle-class students who fail to show up.

The Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based group that advocates for low-income and minority students, suggests a variety of ways that school districts could spend the new money: Improve access to college counseling and academic planning at schools in need. Expand summer school, giving priority to disadvantaged students. Provide health, dental and vision care on a districtwide basis. Give incentives to teachers and principals willing to transfer to the highest-need schools.

Under the funding formula, all school districts receive a base amount of funding. Districts in which needy students exceed 40 percent of enrollment would receive supplemental funding. Districts with disadvantaged enrollments exceeding 55 percent would get even more money, known as concentration grants. The amounts would increase yearly until 2020-21.

The changes come as California’s K-12 schools have begun to see a funding surge thanks to a 2012 statewide tax initiative and a spike in capital gains tax revenue that has filled state coffers. Of the $6.3 billion in additional funds proposed for K-12 schools and community colleges next fiscal year, Brown wants to devote $4.5 billion toward his local control funding formula.

Brown, who last year said his school funding plan was “a matter of equity and civil rights,” made a surprise morning appearance at the board meeting. He told the crowd of hundreds that the most competent level of decision-making must include those on the front lines of education – teachers, neighborhoods, parents and students. Districts are required to solicit opinions through advisory committee meetings; Sacramento City Unified, for instance, has one scheduled Wednesday at its headquarters.

He assured critics that the regulations can improve over time.

“We are not omnipotent,” he told the group. “A little humility is in order.”

After Brown left, a small group of students disrupted the meeting with the loud chant, “Education is life. We fight for our rights,” until they were ejected from the meeting.

The formula is expected to bring some of the biggest per-pupil funding increases in the Sacramento region to districts such as Robla Elementary and Woodland Joint Unified, which have high percentages of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.

The 2,200-student Robla School District with five elementary campuses in the north Sacramento area, has nearly 90 percent low-income enrollment, said Superintendent Ruben Reyes.

“For us, there is not a classroom in my school district that does not have a large number of poor children and English learners,” he said in an interview. What is good for the 90 percent needy students, he said, “is generally good” for the other 10 percent.

Jay Hansen, trustee for Sacramento City Unified, said Thursday the proposed regulations are “on target and allows districts like ours to do right by our students and by our families. He said the district “is excited if not daunted by the challenges” of the funding transformation.

State Board doesn’t tinker with LCFF regs

by Kimberly Beltran  | SI&A Cabinet Report  |

January 17, 2014 (Calif.)  ::  The California State Board of Education, following more than seven straight hours of public testimony Thursday, adopted an emergency set of rules regulating district spending and accountability under the newly-restructured school funding system.

While many of those addressing the panel said they were pleased with changes that had been made since the first set of regulations were unveiled last November, still a host of others wanted even tighter accountability controls placed on districts to ensure that additional funding for high populations of disadvantaged students is used for that purpose.

The debate was framed early in the day, however, when Gov. Jerry Brown, who ushered in the landmark Local Control Funding Formula last year, made a surprise appearance at the meeting telling board members that the draft regulations pending before them meet a balance between flexibility and accountability and didn’t need further changes – at least for now.

“I like to find the truth between the reformers, the unions, the parents, the students – who all work together even though they all have different perspectives,” Brown said. “This set of regulations has that flexibility to incorporate different perspectives while with the overall goal of achievement, of directing more funding where the challenges are greater and setting up a template and mechanism of accountability.”

Brown had struggled in recent months over the program’s regulations as two of his own goals for the new system were challenged by key interest groups.

The governor had sold the program last spring by arguing that local officials should be in charge of most spending decisions – the so-called principle of subsidiarity – but he also wanted more of the money to target low-income students, English learners and foster youth.

That the two ideas could effectively coexist concerned civil rights groups, with many arguing Thursday that the regulations still do not go far enough in ensuring that the targeted money will actually be used as intended.

But district and school officials from all over the state also testified, one after the other, that their mission under the new formula is clear, and that many of them have already begun using the funds to address learning and service inequities that have plagued them in the past.

“As a district, Fresno Unified understands and takes very seriously the considerable increase in local accountability that comes with such a shift to local control,” said Mike Hanson, superintendent of the state’s fourth largest school district as well as president of the board of directors for CORE – an influential coalition of nine districts including Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco and Long Beach.

“We are focused intently on allocating resources so that students who struggle the most receive the greatest amount of support through appropriate and effective interventions as well as through more student instructional time with an effective teacher,” Hanson told the board. “Furthermore, we’ve made a big push and a firm commitment to total transparency in the development of our plans.”

The product of much negotiation with stakeholders, the newly-adopted ‘emergency’ regulations come with a template designed to guide districts through the matrix of new accountability and reporting requirements.

An initial proposal of both elements released in November drew quick opposition from the civil rights community, which said it gave local educational agencies too much flexibility in deciding how the new money would be used and seemed to flaunt a key phrase in the enabling legislation that required the money be used to “increase” services to the disadvantaged.

Revisions made to the initial set of regulations seemed to largely satisfy many critics – including the powerful California Teachers Association as well as a cadre of the Legislature’s Democratic leaders.

For the civil rights groups, there remain a few improvements they believe still need to be made. One concerns the reporting requirements on district-wide spending, where a LEA serves a student population made up primarily of targeted subgroups – English learners, low-income students and foster youth.

Board members during their deliberations at the end of the day highlighted other issues that should be addressed as work progresses on the regulations such as clarifying the LCFF’s interaction with federal law, providing better examples of what the parent-engagement component of the plan should look like and providing more clarity for charter schools and county offices of education.

“We’re committed, as a board, to making any necessary changes and continuing the public engagement process that got us here with the balance that we reached today,” said board president Mike Kirst. “But rather than making changes on the fly to particular parts of the regulations without time to fully consider their potential impact and engage all stakeholders, I support approving the emergency regulations as presented.”

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