January kicks off the annual debate about how much California invests in schools. We’ve put together FIVE important questions to help you move the discussion toward topics that matter. Parents can play a critical role. Now is a good time to share this with your school community to get them informed and engaged.
Don't hold your breath.
School Funding, Radically Simplified: Each January, California's leaders make an educated guess about how much money will be collected in taxes, then decide what portion of that money will go toward public schools. School district leaders, in turn, must try to predict how much they will have available to spend, and build a plan to invest it. You can find this year’s initial state estimate here.
Compared to other states, California's funding for schools is skimpy. School districts are forced to make choices and compromises because there is not enough money to meet all needs of all students in all schools.
Attendance matters. Your school district receives money for each student who shows up to school. It receives a bit more if it has a high proportion of students in poverty, learning English, or in foster care.
School costs, particularly the costs of salaries and pensions, are going up. So be aware: even if you see headlines in January that say the budget provides “more money” for the school system, that does not necessarily translate into more money to invest in more programs and services at your school.
To involve parents in tradeoffs, school districts are required to collect input in the process of developing their Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP).
Tip: Keep an eye on funding and get prepared now for input in the winter and spring on your district’s LCAP.
Each school district must have a public plan for how it will spend the its money. Known as the LCAP (Local Control Accountability Plan), this three-year plan must be updated each year. Once school districts get a look at the proposed state budget, they start refining their proposed LCAP for the next year. Every year you have a chance to let decision makers know what you and your school community think.
Your district's current LCAP plan should be available from the State Department of Education; if it is not, contact your school district.
Tip: The plan is LONG and dense and usually written in tiny print. That’s why you need to jump to the next question.
This is what you really want to know, right? California is making significant changes to the way schools and districts are evaluated. The new tool, called the California School Dashboard, is still quite new. Many school districts prepare an executive summary of school performance in their LCAP to capture not only how it spends its money but how that investment is paying off.
Here is a short “To Do” list:
This is your chance to hear from school staff about what’s going on. (And it's a chance for staff to hear from you, too!) You can help your district make a better plan by participating. Just so you know, districts are required to keep track of these meetings and report about them in their plan.
Sometimes the words get in the way. If the LCAP is unclear, at community meetings you should ask for clear answers to questions like these:
Creating a plan should be a conversation. This is the best time of year to tell district leaders what is working and what can be improved.
As homework ahead of your community meeting, browse through the lessons in Ed100.org. They can help you think about the tradeoffs involved in running a school or district, keeping the big picture in mind. By doing your homework, you will have an easier time influencing the outcome of the meeting.
Search all lesson and blog content here.
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