November 17, 2014 | After soliciting input for over a year from education groups, research and advocacy organizations, students and parents, the State Board of Education on Friday approved final regulations governing how districts spend funds they receive through the Local Control Funding Formula, the state’s new school financing law.
The board also adopted final regulations for Local Control and Accountability Plans, which outline how districts intend to spend those funds.
The law devolves more decision-making powers to local school districts and for the first time gives them additional funds based on the number of “high-needs” students – low-income students, English learners and foster children – they are serving.
In a detailed 98-page document, the board staff described each comment it received, and then whether they felt the proposed change in the regulations were warranted. Among the changes that the board approved is requiring school districts to get input from students into their accountability plans.
In January of this year the state board, whose members are appointed by the governor, enacted emergency regulations that governed the first year of implementation of the new funding law. Gov. Jerry Brown first proposed the basic idea behind the law in his State of the State speech in January 2012.
It was derived from a proposal described in a 2007 paper co-written by Alan Bersin, at the time a member of the State Board of Education, Goodwin Liu, then a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Law, and Michael Kirst, a Stanford University professor who is currently president of the state board and has been a longtime education advisor to the governor.
The authors proposed targeting funds at “high-needs” students based on what it called a “weighted student formula” that they argued would “result in a simpler, fairer, and more coherent system of school finance, one that is responsive to student needs and regional costs.”
Since the passage of the law, the board has devoted a significant amount of time getting public input and made several changes to the regulations, in addition to those requiring more student input. They included adopting a redesign of the LCAP template and adding a requirement that makes it clear that additional money districts receive for “high-needs” students must be used “principally” to benefit them. The word “principally” had become a contentious one – supported by a range of advocacy groups, and opposed by the California School Boards Association.
What was notable about Friday’s action is that several advocacy organizations that had criticized the board for not being aggressive enough in ensuring that districts spent the extra funds they received on “high-needs” students welcomed the final regulations.
David Sapp, director of education advocacy for the ACLU of California, said the board’s process for soliciting input from students and parents was “historic,” as was the board’s willingness to make changes to the initial regulations. In a 45-day review period at the beginning of the year, the board received 2,300 comments, and then in two subsequent 15-day review periods it received dozens more.
As a result of the changes, Sapp said, local districts will now be required to state clearly how they will achieve the goals outlined in their accountability plans, as well as specify the progress they are making to reach them.
“It is not just a technicality that districts address each element in the plan,” he said. “It is essential to the success of this entire undertaking.”
John Affeldt, managing attorney for Public Advocates in San Francisco, a public interest law firm that has been heavily involved in education policy in the state, also welcomed the board’s vote on Friday.
“No state has devoted this much in resources for high-need students,” he said. The difference between the regulations first proposed by the board and those enacted on Friday, he said, was “night and day.” What is in place now, he said, attacks the problem of underachieving students “in a more holistic way than the No Child Left Behind law,” the federal legislation that has governed education reform over the past dozen years – and which has not come close to achieving its stated goals.
Also celebrating the board’s action was Californians for Justice, a nonprofit advocacy organization, which had helped organize a “Student Voice Matters” campaign. Edgar Campos, the organization’s policy director, welcomed the provisions in the regulations that will require districts to get student input for their accountability plans by conducting student surveys, creating student advisory committees, or other strategies.
Barbara Ledterman of the California State PTA said that adoption of the regulations was a “beginning” rather than the end of a process. She said a major challenge will be to increase levels of parent participation in implementing the new law, especially in schools serving low-income communities. “Most parents are working, and don’t understand their role in the law,” she said. Often, she said, “parents don’t feel anyone at their school will listen to them.”
Sheila Whitley, a math teacher at El Capitan High School in Merced and a California Teachers Association member, said that involving students in the development of the Local Control and Accountability Plan is “not going to happen overnight.” She said it will take a conscious effort to encourage students, along the lines of what her school is doing to ensure that students participate in clubs, athletic programs, and civic organizations. But, she said, the law “is a step in the right direction.”
Louis Freedberg covers education reform and is Executive Director of EdSource.