Firm’s LCAP review finds holes in what schools disclose

Firm’s LCAP review finds holes in what schools disclose

(Calif.) With local school boards preparing a third budget under the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula, a public-interest law firm has issued a report raising concerns about where additional state support is being spent and whether schools are properly disclosing it.

Public Advocates, a San Francisco-based non-profit firm active in defending the educational rights of low-income families, released the report today calling on lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown to consider new rules or guidance that would promote transparency in the preparation of the Local Control Accountability Plans.

“Unfortunately, many districts are still continuing to approach the exercise of developing their local plans as one of compliance instead of continuous improvement,” said Angelica Jongco, senior staff attorney at Public Advocates in a statement.

“As a result, district LCAPs are falling short of their promise to bring local transparency and accountability to public education,” said Jongco, who is also the primary author of the report. “More concerning is the very real possibility that students will miss out on the equity promise at the heart of the new funding law because districts continue to spend funds the same way they always have with minimal reflection on whether they are making a difference for high-needs students.”

In an effort to bring more spending decisions closer to the classroom, Brown pushed the LCFF through the Legislature in 2013, bringing a number of sweeping changes to how the state funds K-12 education.

Stripping away regulatory control over billions of dollars in state categorical funds, the LCFF simplified the funding system by giving districts basic grants intended to cover education costs for all students, and then directing additional money specifically at programs for low-income students, English learners and foster youth.

Although local school boards have broad authority over how to spend the money, they are required to build detailed plans – the LCAPs – showing how the money is being used to move these disadvantaged students ahead. The state also requires that districts engage parents and other community stakeholders in developing the LCAP and the school budget to ensure they have a say in the process.

While districts are starting a third budget year under the requirements of the LCFF, key accountability pieces are still being developed by the California State Board of Education.

An entirely new system of multiple measures to evaluate school and student performance isn’t expected to be unveiled until later this fall, including the LCAP rubrics that county superintendents and state regulators will use to determine how well districts are doing in meeting their spending goals.

That said, groups representing disadvantaged students targeted by the LCFF money have been active in monitoring district spending decisions and disclosures.

Just last month, Public Advocates filed a complaint with the California Department of Education claiming that the West Contra Costa School District had failed to properly engage parents and community groups in the spending of some $30 million in LCFF money.

The law firm, along with attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, is also engaged in a legal action against Los Angeles Unified over how the district counted its baseline support of the targeted student groups at the outset of the LCFF in 2014.

Most of what was highlighted in the Public Advocate survey would not appear to meet the standards for a lawsuit – but since given the both the freedom and responsibility to make spending decisions, local officials have been bracing for legal challenges.

Attorneys representing schools have pointed with warning to a key phrase within the LCFF regulations that require targeted money to be “principally directed” at the three subgroups and that the money be used to “improve services.”

Indeed both issues were raised in the findings of the new report:

“Districts are not properly justifying their use of supplemental and concentration funds by describing how they are principally directed and effective to serve the high-need students who generate those dollars,” Jongco wrote. “Low concentration districts are not explaining how districtwide uses of funds are the most effective use for high-need students.”

She added: “Many districts fail to clearly explain how they are meeting their minimum obligation to increase and improve services for high-need students as compared to all students in proportion to the additional funds these students generate.”

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