Recommendations to Reform California’s Education Funding Formula

When it was first enacted in 2013, California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) was seen as a way to focus extra resources on the education of foster youth, English language learners and low-income youth in the state. A new brief outlines some of the issues with its current implementation and highlights opportunities to improve it through innovation.

California adopted the LCFF to give school districts more flexibility and funding to help higher-needs students succeed academically. LCFF then launched programming known as Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAP) to promote community and parent engagement in local K-12 schools and district planning. Districts were granted the task of writing LCAPs, which highlighted district-wide and school-wide goals, funding plans and progress updates. According to the California State Parent-Teacher Association website, LCAPs were intended to be a “comprehensive planning tool to help all students succeed,” and give parents the “opportunity to shape the vision for [their] children’s education.”

Now, however, LCFF and LCAPs have received criticism for being too difficult and outdated. Research highlights that more than six in 10 Californians support LCFF, but the advocacy community argues that the system does not allow for district transparency or accountability. Reports have also stressed that the system has prompted protocols that are too rigid for educators. For instance, after officially being implemented in 2014, LCAPs did not consider the potential differences between schools and unsuccessfully tried to fit them into a single mold.

This past July, the California Collaborative on District Reform, teaming up with Pivot Learning, released a report where they utilized a “formal design cycle” to try to advance LCFF’s mission. This design process aimed to allow various California stakeholders, including district leaders, parents, students and funders, to collaborate and create innovative solutions. The project targeted four main points: engaging parents and the community, aligning districts’ budgets and priorities, promoting transparency around budgets and planning and finding ways to hold districts accountable.

In November 2016, four design teams, each focusing on one of these goals, came together for three days to develop “prototype” solutions. The first prototype looked to promote better communication with parents, teachers and community members throughout school-level planning. The second opted for a web-based tool to help finance and academic stakeholders within districts to coordinate efforts. This tool would align districts’ budgeting and strategies and allow for comparison between schools. The third team also recommended a web-based solution that would help districts be more transparent with planning and budgeting. Community members would then be able to learn about the districts’ plans. Finally, the fourth group encouraged districts to form self-assessment strategies for accountability. Further, this prototype included reviewers who would evaluate those plans and provide recommendations.

Moving forward, California Collaborative, Pivot Learning and WestEd plan to test and refine the proposed prototypes. Districts will also be recruited to test prototypes and further finalize plans.

Read the full report here.

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