New dispute opens over LCAP reporting mandate
(Calif.) A festering dispute over how much freedom local officials should have over education spending has reignited, pitting school managers against advocates for low-income families and some key members of the Legislature.
The current tempest involves plans local educational agencies are now required to produce showing how new state funds are being used to support disadvantaged students.
A template of the new plan pending before the California State Board of Education would require districts to provide actual spending figures on each pupil subgroup – a mandate that school officials say undermines Gov. Jerry Brown’s often cited principal of subsidiarity.
They also argue that actual spending reports typically trail the end of the fiscal year by months and thus cannot be included in the Local Accountability Control Plans, which must be approved and adopted before July 1 each year.
“The LCAP was never intended to be an expenditure document that a lay person could pick up to see the LEA’s entire budget in black and white,” a coalition of school management groups and local districts said in a July 28 letter to the state board.
They noted some of the proposed changes “suggest an erosion of the governor’s original vision and instead move the template towards becoming a document driven by compliance rather than student outcomes and closing the achievement gaps.”
Representatives from some of the state’s largest school management groups signed the letter including the Association of California School Administrators, the California School Boards Association and the California Association of School Business Officials.
It arrived, along with scores of others from education stakeholders, during the final days of a public comment period tied to proposed changes to regulations governing the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula and next year’s LCAP.
The changes, discussed by the state board at its July meeting, are expected to come back for further review at the September meeting.
On the other side of the question, social justice groups praised the proposed disclosure requirement, noting that it would result in districts clearly acknowledging schoolwide spending that under some conditions could include students who do not qualify as “educationally disadvantaged” –defined by state law as low-income, English learners or foster youth.
Debra Brown, associate director for Children Now – also in a July 28 letter to the board – said the new requirement “goes a long way toward closing a loophole in the regulations that made it unclear whether the funds for unduplicated students would be spent on their behalf.”
If the disagreement might appear to be modest and technical in nature, it is reflective of a broader struggle schools groups and advocates for low-income families have waged virtually since the LCFF was first proposed two years ago.
Brown’s original plan called for the removal of all spending restrictions on billions of dollars in state support to schools, with additional funds provided to schools and districts serving high numbers of disadvantaged students. Little more accountability was proposed initially, which provoked strong opposition from social justice groups as well as a significant portion of the Legislature’s Democratic majority.
Eventually the governor and legislative leaders agreed on the LCAP as a condition of receiving new freedom to spend state funds – a report that requires consultation with parents and community leaders to create and outline student needs, educational goals and spending decisions.
Although the elements of the LCAP were worked out in budget negotiations last year and Brown has said he opposes any major changes until schools and communities have had a chance to go through the process once or twice, some activist lawmakers and advocacy groups have continued to press for greater accountability.
School officials said privately this week that they are concerned that the LCAP process will become a new “categorical” program over time – a reference to the previous system where dozens of school spending programs were defined in legislation and controlled from Sacramento.
At the July hearing, members of the state board cautioned advocates on both sides of the issue to consider how much common ground had been covered in recent months to refine the LCAP into the form it is today.
“The real problem,” said one Capitol observer close to the issue, “is a continued lack of trust between school districts and the social welfare folks.”