Continuing to Fall Short on LCFF Transparency

In the lead-up to this year’s budget agreement, the Assembly Budget Committee approved a proposal intended to make the state’s K-12 school funding formula, the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), more transparent for local stakeholders as well as for state policymakers. This proposal would have improved transparency by requiring school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools to annually report LCFF funding information to the California Department of Education (CDE). The proposal would also have required CDE to annually report this statewide information on the department’s website.

However, as we blogged about at the time, the proposal fell short in important ways, including not requiring school districts to report the baseline funding used to support disadvantaged students in 2013-14, the year LCFF funding began. Despite frank discussion during the Legislature’s budget conference committee, during which legislators lamented the lack of LCFF transparency, the scope of the transparency provision in the final budget trailer bill that Governor Brown signed into law is even more limited. The approved language only requires school districts to report LCFF funding information to CDE after the new funding formula is fully implemented, which the Administration estimates will take five more years. Even then, reporting LCFF information from years prior to its full implementation would only be required “to the extent available.” So, in short: the new law does not require school districts to report to CDE the amount of LCFF dollars they spend on services for disadvantaged students for at least several years, and it does not require school districts to report the baseline spending used to support these students. This means state policymakers and the public won’t have basic information needed to determine both how LCFF dollars are being spent statewide each year and whether that level of spending is helping to increase or improve services for disadvantaged students.

In another notable development on the LCFF front, the budget agreement also includes a one-year extension, to October 1, 2016, of the deadline for the State Board of Education (SBE) to adopt evaluation rubrics — standards — for assessing school district and schoolsite performance. The Legislature granted the extension after President Kirst, at the SBE’s meeting in May, expressed the need for more time to gather the information necessary to develop evaluation rubrics. Hopefully, the deadline extension will allow the SBE, which meets again this week, to collect the information it needs to make sound judgments. Ironically, however, the limited transparency provisions in this year’s budget agreement mean that —  at least for now — the Legislature will not have the statewide information that it needs to determine whether LCFF dollars are being spent to support the disadvantaged students for whom they are intended.

— Jonathan Kaplan