Which school do you want to support?
In politics and government, the golden rule gets a new spin:
“He who has the gold makes the rules.”
In California (as explained in Lesson 8.3) the state provides - or at least controls - most of the money public schools need to hire teachers, buy books, and generally keep classrooms operating. Accordingly, the state makes many important rules about schooling, but one of the most important involves how it distributes funds to school districts. (Technically, the state apportions funds to Local Education Agencies, a term that includes districts, county offices of education and charter schools. Insiders call them LEAs.)
Prior to 2013, California had an almost impossibly complex system for allocating funds to school districts. It had been developed without consistent principles over many years, and it was loaded with inconsistencies and special arrangements. That system was erased when California lawmakers creating the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), a much simpler and fairer set of rules.
The big idea of LCFF is that school districts and charter schools with "higher need" students get more money to invest in those students. Here is how it works:
The end result is that districts receive very different levels of funding based on how many English language learners, children in poverty and children in foster care they have. But unlike the old system, in which funds were apportioned with strong restrictions on how they could be used, under LCFF the use of funds is substantially left to school districts, subject to the intent of the LCFF law. This was a big change. Now the districts hold the gold, and make the rules.
There can be a big difference between intent and reality. Are districts actually following through on the intent of LCFF by investing more money in higher-need students? It's hard to know. The districts hold the gold, make the rules, and conduct their own accounting. The Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) is intended to provide information about the actual use of LCFF funds, but the accounting detail in the LCAP is minimal. In practice, it is up to community leaders to enforce the intent of the law. Nonprofit law firms and advocacy groups like Public Advocates and the ACLU have begun playing a critical role, supporting litigation against districts that use LCFF targeted funds in ways that aren't targeted. These cases are difficult. Standard public reports don't necessarily show where school district money is spent, and organizations have had to use Freedom of Information Act requests and the threat of litigation to obtain the detailed information required.
The transition to the LCFF system was unexpectedly rapid: originally forecast to take seven years, the job was essentially done in three due to strong growth in California's tax receipts. http://fairshare4kids.org/ is a good site to see if your district is among the rare exceptions.
All LCFF funds are technically “unrestricted,” which means school districts have discretion over how they are used. However, as explained in Lesson 7.8, there are also new accountability rules that apply. An important element of the Local Control Funding Formula is that school districts must engage parents and community to create a Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). See Lesson 7.10 and What's an LCAP? for more information on how spending decisions are made.
It’s important to know that LCFF Funding is not the only state money school districts receive. There are several programs for which a given district or charter school might be eligible and together they represent more than 10% of the state funds that go to K-12 education. These funds come with strings attached. If a district does not run a particular program or have eligible students, it generally won’t receive the funds.
The largest of these programs is Special Education, which has its own set of allocation rules and also requires the district to spend funds from its base allocation (see Lesson 8.6). Other programs include the Quality Education Improvement Act, the state’s after school program, home-to-school transportation, and child nutrition (e.g. school lunches).
Lottery funds of about $150 per student are also outside of the LCFF funding formula but are uniformly distributed. In any given year the state may also provide some one-time monies for specific purposes.
State leaders also left intact the funding some districts received from two old categorical programs. Districts that received Targeted Instructional Improvement Grants (TIIG) continue to receive the extra amount they got in 2012-13, with full flexibility in how they spend the money. Similarly, eligible districts will continue to receive their 2012-13 Transportation grant amounts, but they are required to spend those funds on student transportation.
In addition, the federal government largely delegates to the state department of education the task of disbursing federal funding. Most of those funds are for specific programs as largely explained in Lesson 7.2.
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