Engagement remains big LCFF hurdle for LEAs
(Calif.) One year into a sweeping shift of education funding and accountability, a new study finds that most districts struggled to comply with requirements to engage parents in spending decisions.
In what has been billed as the first formal analysis of the impact of the Local Control Funding Formula, a research team led by SRI International found that most local educational agencies lacked the staff and the time to perform community outreach, and as a result received input from only a fraction of their stakeholders.
“If the state is serious about meaningful community engagement, districts will need help,” authors of the new study concluded. “Districts generally lacked the necessary stills, strategies, and resources to truly engage citizens, parents, advocacy groups, students, and educators in decision making around the complex and sometimes contentious issues inherent in LCFF.”
Based on interviews with district staff, school board members, union representatives and parents, the team focused on 10 districts as well as 20 county offices of education, which covered representation of 458 districts in the state.
The report, released Tuesday, was funded by the Stuart Foundation and the Heising-Simons Foundation and represents collaboration between SRI International, J. Koppich & Associates, the University of Southern California, Inverness Research and San Diego State University.
The LCFF system, established as part of the 2013 state budget, replaced a byzantine funding system for schools with one that gives districts three forms of support – two of which are aimed at the state’s educationally disadvantaged (low income students, English learners and foster youth).
But LEAs are also required to develop and promulgate planning documents that show how state support will be used to improve student outcomes – the Local Control and Accountability Plan.
Among the key findings is that enthusiasm for local control over the spending is tempered by unease when it comes to the LCAP – and especially mandates that parents be brought into the budget process.
To accommodate the new system, the study found, most districts formed teams that joined fiscal officers with curriculum and instruction experts – a departure from the past where the district administration would tell department heads how much money they had to spend.
“The LCAP process really pushed the emphasis on collaboration,” one administrator told researchers. “We recognized that people were working in silos. And we had to change.”
The survey found that most districts used their LCFF money cautiously – many gave teacher raises, while others spent cash on new technology needed to implement the Common Core State Standards.
State law does not requires districts to make specific accounting for how the LCFF’s “supplemental” and “concentration” grants are used to support disadvantaged students but the survey found many are keeping track of the money anyway.
“They suspect the state ultimately will ask for the information and are concerned that along with that request will come stricter requirements around using supplemental and concentration grants — a move, they say, that will weaken the local control aspect of the LCFF and make it more like a traditional categorical program that emphasizes inputs over outcomes,” the report said.
There was also a significant amount of uncertainty about the core mission of reporting required in the LCAP. Districts said they struggled to determine whether the LCAP is a compliance document or a broader articulation of overall fiscal strategy for meeting academic goals.
“While some districts approached the LCAP as an opportunity to articulate a vision, most simply did not have the time to carry it through, or quickly got bogged down in the minutiae of filling out the template, cell by cell,” the report said.
A key element of the LCAP is that districts explain how they are using the LCFF money to pursue eight statewide educational goals, which include test score improvement but also cover such things as school climate and attendance.
“While the state identifies metrics for its eight priorities, districts are responsible for establishing measures of progress for their own goals. In our review of more than 40 LCAPs, we found few examples in which districts clearly and completely described the metrics they planned to use to measure progress toward their goals,” the researchers said. “The problem appeared to stem from district goals that were not always specific, measureable, or reasonably attainable.”