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Lesson 7.10

Local Power:
The LCAP, a New Paradigm in Education

Is “local accountability” the same as “no accountability?” Not if…

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In 2013, California massively decentralized accountability for public education.

Citing a philosophy he called “subsidiarity,” Governor Jerry Brown argued that “a central authority should only perform those tasks which cannot be performed at a more immediate or local level.” In the context of education, this philosophy suggests that control of local schools ought to rest with local communities.

A less philosophical explanation for the change also works:

Your budget shrunk. Here's what's left.
Use it as you think best!
When times get better
You might get a letter
With a new requirements list.

Decentralizing power was an important reversal. The passage of Proposition 13 centralized budgetary power in Sacramento in 1978. Centralizing power wasn't really the point of the initiative; it just worked out that way. Legislators, doing their best for their constituents, used their power to direct education money toward specific programs. Over time, education resources flowed from Sacramento with increasing limitations and program requirements. Districts adapted, learning to comply with these program requirements in order to get the funding they needed. This arrangement, though irritating and often inefficient, was sustainable so long as tax revenues continued to flow and grow. They didn't.

A good outcome from bad times

When the Great Recession crimped the budget in 2008, something had to give. Governor Brown and the legislature used the moment to substantially dismantle the "categorical" funding system that had directed state funds toward specific purposes. Because there was not enough money to run schools without dipping into restricted categorical funding, the legislature made the remaining funding “flexible,” essentially saying: “Use it for whatever you want to use it for.”

Districts received a new level of control over their (smaller) budgets, and the legislature was spared the perhaps-impossible political task of choosing which programs to prune. That unwelcome work was left to local control. A new system was created, dubbed (drumroll please!) the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF).

Reconciling "Accountability" with "Local Control"

It had been a long time since California's local districts and school boards had this much control over how to use funds. What would they do with it? Would their decisions tend to benefit the students who need the most help, or the students whose parents have the strongest voice? Or, perhaps, neither? As discussed in Lesson 7.1, constitutionally it is the state, not districts, that is on the hook for providing education. Subsidiarity is a principle, not a promise. How could districts be held accountable?

The answer continues to evolve. A bunch of things had to change at more or less the same time:

  • The standards. California's academic standards changed with the shift to Common Core standards.
  • The tests. Tests had to change to reflect the new standards.
  • The scoring system for schools and districts. The old system was replaced with the California School Dashboard.
  • The reporting of results. The Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) was developed to provide public transparency about district plans and results.

There are two general options for holding an organization accountable. It can be held accountable for inputs (what it spends and how) or outcomes (what it accomplishes). California has tried to use both.

Tests and Accountability

Until 2013, the annual state tests mandated by federal law served as the primary outcome-based accountability measure for schools and districts. For all their flaws, these tests at least provided a modicum of transparency. Virtually every student took them. Wherever groups of students bombed the tests, the problem was visible at every level, from the student to the parent to the school to the district to Sacramento to Washington. California used the scores to create the Academic Performance Index (API), which was used for state accountability. Federal accountability relied on those test scores to measure Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

The State and the Feds were the designated scolds. District, school and teacher leaders were left to interpret and explain the results, which were sometimes contradictory. The system labeled schools based on narrow measures, but at least it was familiar. Most parents and community members just took the measures at face value. But that was then.

Local Control = Local Accountability

The local control funding system turns the accountability system on its head: Don’t look at Washington or Sacramento to make schools succeed. Don't expect Washington or Sacramento to scold or praise your teachers and students. Under the principle of subsidiarity, local communities are best positioned to make choices that safeguard the vulnerable and achieve good local results for their kids.

This theory deeply worries many civil rights advocates, who perceive a great risk in counting on communities to hold their schools and districts accountable for equitable use of funds. "Subsidiarity," they argue, in practice permits lax or absent oversight.

The Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP)

Beginning in 2014 each district, county office of education, and charter school (each LEA) became responsible for preparing a Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). The plan describes the overall vision for students, annual goals, and specific actions that will be taken to achieve the vision and goals.

The LCAP plan is developed and reviewed each year in coordination with the district’s annual budget cycle. Each year the state evolves its LCAP Template, which districts use as a starting point. (They may design their own documents if they meet the requirements.)

The California State PTA’s Seasons of the LCAP describes ways to use the LCAP process to engage community members throughout the year.


The district-level LCAP, in combination with the school-level Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA), may serve as an important tool to drive action-based conversations about local investment decisions. Or, on the other hand, it might just be paperwork.

LCAPs must address eight areas that have been identified as state priorities. In particular, the plans have to call out details related to the three categories of students with high needs (low-income students, English learners, and foster youth).

California's 8 State Priorities

  1. Student access to basic school services: fully credentialed teachers, instructional materials that align with state standards, and safe facilities.
  2. Implementation of academic standards adopted by the State Board of Education (e.g. Common Core State Standards in English language arts and math, Next Generation Science Standards, English language development), including how programs and services will enable English learners to access the Common Core standards.
  3. Parent involvement and participation, so the local community is engaged in the decision-making process at the district and school sites, including promoting parent participation in programs for high need students. [emphasis added]
  4. Student achievement and outcomes along multiple measures, including test scores, English proficiency, and college- and career-readiness.
  5. Student engagement, including whether students attend school or are chronically absent, and whether they graduate or drop out.
  6. School climate and connectedness as measured by suspension and expulsion rates and other locally identified means.
  7. Pupil access to and enrollment in a broad course of study, including all core subject areas (i.e. English, mathematics, social science, science, visual and perfomring arts, health, physical education, career and technical education, etc.).
  8. Other student outcomes, if available, in the subject areas that make up the broad course of study.

Districts are allowed and encouraged to identify and incorporate into their plans additional goals related to their own local priorities. Many organizations provide tools and support to help help districts make the most of the LCAP process, including the California PTA.

The Public Must Be Engaged and Informed

Each school district must engage parents, educators, employees and the community as they develop these district-level plans. The district plan should harmonize with each school's Single Plan for Student Achievement.

How does that actually happen?

The State Board of Education defines the templates that districts must use for LCAPs. The first section of the template asks for information about stakeholder engagement. The plans must include goal statements linked to the eight state priorities and budget information showing how they will pay for the program changes and improvements needed to meet those goals.

LCAPs must be reviewed by a parent committee - especially if a district has many English learners.

The plans cover three years, but are updated annually. Their development and the updating process must include consultation with various constituencies, including teachers and parents. Ultimately, the plan must be reviewed by a parent advisory committee. If at least 15 percent of the students in a district are English learners, a separate parent committee must provide feedback in this area. The final LCAPs are approved at the same time as the district’s budget, subject to review by the County Office of Education.

LCAPs and Collective Bargaining

The requirement for each district to create its own accountability plan (LCAP) originated as part of the shift away from state-level mandates about how districts use funds. A number of debates erupted as the State Board attempted to fulfill its charge and develop the regulations surrounding LCFF. The most heated debates concerned the balance between local flexibility on one hand and assuring educational opportunities for high-need students on the other. Civil rights advocates expressed concern that in the rough and tumble of collective bargaining, resources that LCFF allocates on the basis of poverty or language-learning needs would find their way onto the bargaining table, there to be swept up into across-the board teacher salary increases, despite the spirit of the law. The LCAP was a compromise solution; it is required to include information about where LCFF funds go and how they are used. Enforcement of the intent of the law, however, is a community responsibility.

The state department of education has taken steps to make some LCAP data easier to find, including a collection of graphical "LCFF State Priorities Snapshots". Does the state-collected data match your district's LCAP? How about your school's Single Plan for Student Achievement? Does it match your school's School Accountability Report Card? If you haven't read these interconnected reports, who has?

The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) published a detailed explanation of the full system of funding and accountability created in 2013. (Updated in 2016.)

Updated May 2018


Each school district's three-year Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) must be updated annually. Which of the following best describes the requirements to produce the plan?

Answer the question correctly and earn a ticket.
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Questions & Comments

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user avatar
Jeff Camp - Founder September 7, 2016 at 2:52 pm
Yes, but what does an LCAP actually LOOK like? Well, it depends. Most are deadly tree-killing blobs of impenetrable blather. But not all! Some are visual, and clearly have been developed with the idea that humans might read them. Check out this amazing collection of samples collected by AIR support from foundations including the supporters of Ed100...
user avatar
Carol Kocivar July 14, 2016 at 8:06 pm
If you are looking for promising Family Engagement Practices in LCAPs, the Public Policy Institute of California identifies promising family engagement strategies from a review of 15 high-need districts.
user avatar
Carol Kocivar April 23, 2016 at 2:57 pm
"Three years after the California Legislature invested nearly $13 billion into schools through the Local Control Funding Formula, it’s still unclear where those dollars are going. That’s the conclusion of The Education Trust–West’s new report, which reviews the second-year Local Control and Accountability Plans from 40 school districts."
Here is a link to the report:
user avatar
Carol Kocivar December 11, 2015 at 4:19 pm
A new study from Policy Analysis for California Education: Two Years of California's Local Control Funding Formula"
Districts are unclear about the purpose of the LCAP and unsure about what funds to include in it. In addition, they are confused about the cycle and annual updates and view the LCAP as a compliance document.
The bad news: They produce LCAPs that are neither readable by nor accessible to the public.
Another finding:
Public awareness of the LCFF still lags, which may be complicating engagement efforts.
Download the report:
user avatar
Brandi Galasso September 24, 2015 at 12:33 am
No, our school has less funding then it did before this whole budget crisis started. They have cut almost everything at our school. District , when received additional funding hired 30 more people at district all earning way upwards of $100,000 plus benefits. The district says they are providing programs district wide instead of giving schools money. District keeps saying they are providing things for are a ridiculous amount of money, but they are not. We are being lied to about programs we were supposed to have since school year began. But we are barely getting it, because out district did not update our systems like supposed to. Who can help when they are misusing funds, who can actually do something about it. The lcapp is written and approved but they are not funding programs in them. District states beatifying campus, but what they did was have parents volunteer to beautify campuses parents providing material. But district on paper portrays it to be the district doing this like if they spent money on it, which is untrue. How do I get help does anyone know?
user avatar
KimS April 21, 2015 at 6:36 am
I've read the LCAP for San Diego Unified, and most of the measures for the first few years are "establish a baseline." It seems like they're giving themselves an awful lot of breathing room where no assessments are actually taken, and implemented a lot of priorities over the objections of SSC and DELAC.
Since LCAP has been implemented, the only budgetary improvement I've seen in my child's school is that the library is open one day a week. Class sizes stayed the same or got bigger; the school lost its ELST/reading specialist hybrid position. I want to embrace LCAP but having the people who implement the LCAP assess its effectiveness is maybe not a wise plan.
user avatar
Sherry Schnell April 2, 2015 at 9:28 am
Does our school have more funding to restore programs? Absolutely NOT. My daughter's school (already woefully underfunded) has LESS resources since local control. My daughter's elementary school (located in a middle class area) is being completely ignored by San Diego Unified and funds are being taken away to direct to low income areas.
user avatar
maritess February 14, 2015 at 10:09 pm
Find (or share) your school district's LCAP here:
user avatar
Janet L. February 2, 2015 at 11:11 am
The second to last link (to the page) is broken. Do you have a current link for this? Thanks!
user avatar
Jeff Camp - Founder February 2, 2015 at 1:54 pm
Thanks, Janet. The link has been corrected. It's SUPER helpful when people bring site issues (or new resources) to our attention. The web is ever a-churn, and we try to keep on top of it. Quite a challenge for a volunteer team!
user avatar
Janet L. February 2, 2015 at 5:26 pm
Wow, thanks for being so quick to find the current link!
user avatar
Mary Perry October 29, 2014 at 2:37 pm
A new study looks at last year's efforts to implement LCFF and at the LCAP experience in particular. The authors report that the local school district officials they interviewed think this reform is a good thing, still are concerned about California's low funding levels, are hoping for some procedural improvements, and just want to see the state give it all a chance to work. The report, funded by the Stuart Foundation, is entitled "Toward A Grand Vision" and is available here:
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