Will the State Board Answer Stakeholders’ Call for Improved Transparency in K-12 Education Spending?

Tomorrow’s State Board of Education (SBE) meeting will mark another step toward the state’s development of a new accountability system for K-12 schools, a key component of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) — the state’s K-12 school funding formula. While most of the attention at the SBE meeting is likely to focus on the development of evaluation rubrics — standards — for assessing school district and schoolsite performance, another important agenda item will address proposed revisions to the template that school districts use for their Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs). As required by the law that established the LCFF, the SBE adopted an LCAP template that school districts must use to annually describe specific goals and actions for achieving educational priorities. LCAPs must also list and describe district expenditures that provide additional services for disadvantaged students. However, numerous reports, such as a new analysis from The Education Trust-West, have pointed to significant problems with school district LCAPs. The SBE has acknowledged the need to revise the current LCAP template and, at its meeting in March, identified a timeline for doing so. This timeline indicates that the SBE will adopt a revised LCAP template at its September 2016 meeting.

To help inform the redesign of the LCAP template, the California Department of Education (CDE) recently surveyed parents, teachers, administrators, and school board members concerning their views on how the template might be improved. CDE’s analysis of more than 500 survey responses highlighted three themes: increased transparency and user friendliness, simplified and streamlined structure and language, and improved instructions and support.

The agenda for tomorrow’s SBE meeting refers to these themes, but does not specify what may be included in a redesign of the LCAP template. For example, one of the recommendations in the SBE meeting agenda indicates a need to “maximize transparency,” but it does not address CDE survey responses that pointed specifically to the need for improving fiscal transparency. In fact, the section of school district LCAPs most often described by respondents as being the least understandable is the one that is supposed to both identify the amount of LCFF dollars generated by disadvantaged students and detail the use of these dollars. This survey result is not surprising given the number of reports about school district LCAPs over the past two years that have pointed to the need for greater fiscal transparency.

Unfortunately, the SBE meeting agenda does not indicate that the LCAP revision will provide the information that local stakeholders or policymakers need to understand how schools spend dollars generated by disadvantaged students. That is why it is crucial that a complete version of the revised LCAP template is made available with adequate time for the public to provide feedback prior to the next SBE meeting, which is in July.

As we have blogged about since the SBE first took action on LCFF’s spending rules, it’s critical that the SBE require school districts to report spending on disadvantaged students in a way that allows stakeholders and policymakers to easily assess whether student needs are driving the allocation of school resources. CDE’s recent survey and several reports make it clear that school district LCAPs do not provide the information needed to determine how LCFF dollars generated by disadvantaged students are being spent. The proposed redesign of the LCAP template provides an opportunity for the SBE to respond to the call for improved transparency. Tomorrow’s meeting will signal whether the SBE plans to do so.

— Jonathan Kaplan