School's Back in Session: New Lessons to Learn

by Jeff Camp | August 27, 2014 | 0 Comments
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This post was contributed by Mary Perry*

For students, the first day of school probably looks much like it always has. For adults in California, however, this [2014-15] school year will be full of new experiences.

Teachers, principals, and school district officials are being called upon to change the way they manage school resources, the curriculum they use, and the services they provide to their high-need students.

Parents have a new role to play as well.

Parents have a new role to play.

California’s state leaders put these changes in motion in 2013 when they altered the systems for school funding and school accountability. It’s all about local control. Under the new system, known as the Local Control Funding Formula or LCFF (See Lesson 8.5), districts receive a base amount of funding for each student and extra to provide more services for students with additional needs, including those from low-income families and those who need to learn English. Districts then decide how to best use those funds to support the success of all their students and they’re supposed to be accountable to their local community for how well they do that. The new law requires districts to actively engage parents in the planning process and in spending decisions. Do you know what is happening in your district?

Year #1 for Local Control Accountability Plans

At the end of June, school districts submitted their first Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs), blueprints for how they will use their funding to improve their basic services, student outcomes, and the engagement of both students and parents based on eight state priorities (See Lesson 7.10.) In a very real way, that marked the end of the beginning of California’s new LCAP era.

This year the process will start a lot sooner and presumably school district officials will build on what they did last year. School Services of California—K-12 educators’ go-to source for management advice—is urging district leaders to think of 2014-15 as “Year 1” for the LCAP. At a summer workshop for district leaders, Suzanne Speck, associate vice president for School Services, describes this as “the implementation year. While you will not be able to measure progress towards the goals you’ve just adopted, there will be plenty to do in Year 1. Remember that the life cycle of the LCAP is one of continuous reflection, adaptation, and growth.”

School Service's suggested cycle for LCAP review and development School Service's suggested cycle for LCAP review and development

Within a few weeks of when school starts, many districts will begin engaging their parent communities and other stakeholders (think teachers and other staff, community members, and students) in the reflection part of the cycle by assessing the plans they adopted, looking at any new data they have about outcomes, and discussing ideas for how the plans might be adapted. This is all in preparation for creating their 2015-16 budgets, a process that starts in January (See Lesson 8.7.)

Your Homework

By getting involved this fall, parents can play an important part in making sure that school districts use their funds well and make wise decisions that benefit kids. As individuals, and together in organizations such as the PTA, parents can take three important steps right now to prepare for this role.

  • Step #1: Find and read your district’s current LCAP. Look for it on your district’s website or on the LCAP Watch website.
  • Step #2: Get familiar with the eight state priorities and questions you can ask district officials to better understand the issues and assumptions behind that initial plan. The California State PTA has published a set of helpful guides for doing this, plus many other resources to help parents understand the LCAP and LCFF processes.
  • Step #3: Make sure you understand the bigger picture for issues you care about. Ed100.org can help with that. Take a look at the Table of Contents to find the issues you are concerned about or use the LCAP Parent Checklist to do your own needs assessment for your school or district.

Be Ready to Share Your Opinions

Parent engagement—as envisioned in this new era of local control in California—is a two-way street. Districts are now required to give parents a seat at the table and listen to what they believe is needed to make schools better. But as a practical matter, parents need to be well prepared if they are going to use this opportunity constructively. That means being informed and organized enough to be taken seriously and to be persuasive. It’s not just kids who need to be doing their homework now that school has started.

Join the Discussion

  • What did your district identify as its major goals in the LCAP it approved in June 2013? Tip: Ask your district administrator or check LCAPWatch.org, which is meant to serve as a central resource.
  • What do you believe would be the most powerful thing your local school and/or district could do to support success for all students?
  • What are your district’s plans for engaging stakeholders as it begins its LCAP process for this year?

*Mary L. Perry, an independent education consultant in California, helped with the writing and editing of Ed100 [in 2014-15, a vital year of change for the site]. Her knowledge of education issues and policies, particularly school finance, was developed during the 18 years she served as deputy director of EdSource, as a local school board member, and as an active parent while her children attended public schools in San Jose.

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