Proposed Accountability Regulations for New School Funding Formula Come Up Short

Tomorrow, the State Board of Education (SBE) will hold a crucial meeting to review proposed regulations for California’s new education funding formula. The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), signed into law by Governor Brown this past July, provides school districts additional dollars based on their number of disadvantaged students — English learners, foster youth, and students from low-income families. As we’ve blogged about before, the Legislature deferred key decisions regarding accountability — specifically, how to ensure that school districts spend LCFF dollars to provide additional services for disadvantaged students — to the SBE. However, the LCFF legislation did stipulate that the SBE adopt regulations that require school districts to “increase or improve services for [disadvantaged] pupils in proportion to the increase in funds apportioned on the basis of the number and concentration of [disadvantaged] pupils in the school district.” As a result, the rules the SBE establishes will be critical to holding school districts accountable for spending LCFF dollars to support the disadvantaged students for whom these dollars are intended.

Advocates for disadvantaged students are justifiably concerned about the draft regulations the SBE will review tomorrow. After months of debate over how to balance local school district authority over education spending with the need for strong accountability provisions that ensure LCFF dollars are spent to support disadvantaged students, the proposed regulations in their current form provide far too much discretion to school districts — so much so that it would likely undermine the LCFF’s goal of addressing the inequities in the former school finance system.

Under the proposed regulations, school districts could choose among three ways of demonstrating “increased or improved services.” They could spend more, provide more, or achieve more for disadvantaged students. Advocates have strongly objected to including the “achieve more” option, given that it would do nothing to ensure increased or improved services for disadvantaged students. In fact, the “achieve more” standard as currently crafted in the proposed regulations could allow school districts to fulfill their obligations under the LCFF without spending additional money or providing additional resources for English learners, foster youth, and students from low-income families. In addition, the proposed regulations do not adequately clarify how to measure whether school districts actually spend more money or provide additional services for the students for whom LCFF dollars are intended. In short, by giving school districts so much latitude, the proposed regulations leave open the possibility that dollars meant for disadvantaged students would not go toward supporting them.

Under the LCFF legislation, the SBE has until January 31, 2014 to adopt the spending regulations, and it is likely that the Board will vote on these regulations at its meeting in January. This means that tomorrow’s meeting may be the only opportunity for SBE members to request revisions to the proposed regulations.

Anyone interested in equity in school funding — and in ensuring that LCFF dollars are spent to support disadvantaged students — should pay close attention to tomorrow’s meeting to see whether members of the SBE show any interest in revising the proposed regulations. If they do not, the LCFF’s promise of correcting the inequities in the state’s former education finance system may not be realized.

— Jonathan Kaplan