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New Study Offers First Look at Local Control Funding in California School Districts

November 13, 2014

Education officials from school districts and county offices of education across the state are enthusiastic about California’s new Local Control Funding Formula. But they are concerned about the future of the effort and challenged by a lack of time, information, skills, funding and other resources needed for its full and effective implementation, according to a new study released on October 28 by a team of researchers from across California.

“Our research suggests strong support for the local control of school funding and cautious optimism about the future of the new law,” says Daniel Humphrey, senior researcher at SRI International and a co-author of the report. “But at the same time this enthusiasm is tempered by concerns over significant challenges to the law’s full implementation.”

California’s new system for allocating tax dollars to school districts – the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) – provides districts with additional resources to meet the needs of students from low-income families, English-language learners, and foster youth, and gives districts the authority and flexibility to determine how their state funds should be used. The new report, Toward a Grand Vision: Early Implementation of California’s Local Control Funding Formula offers the first independent look at the implementation of this groundbreaking education legislation. The study is based on interviews with state policymakers and staff, school district and county office of education leaders and staff, school board members, union representatives and parents. The researchers also reviewed documents related to the development, requirements and implementation of the LCFF, as well as more than 40 Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs) from a wide range of school districts across the state. Key findings include:

  1. District and County Office of Education officials are enthusiastic about the idea of local control, but are concerned that policy makers may not give them enough time to adjust to the new system.
  2. Under the LCFF, district budgeting processes have begun to change as districts begin to use data, community input, and a collaborative effort among fiscal, instructional, and other departments to build budgets.
  3. District accountability plans (LCAPs) do not provide a sufficiently clear picture of the district’s programs and priorities or adequate measureable goals and metrics to serve as the basis of a comprehensive accountability system.
  4. County Offices of Education devoted considerable resources to support the development of local LCAPs, but did so without desperately needed additional financial support from the state
  5. Districts made serious attempts to gather input from their communities, but lacked the time and the skills required for meaningful engagement.

The research also reveals some confusion or ambivalence over the development of Local Control Accountability Plans as well as technical issues with the LCAP Format. Small school districts also say that have limited staff and capacity needed to develop and implement an LCAP and urged the state to ease requirements for small districts or to provide additional support.

“California’s ambitious new Local Control Funding mechanism is already sparking positive changes in the way school districts develop budgets and engage their local communities,” says Julia Koppich, principal at J. Koppich and Associates and a co-author of the report. “But educators are deeply concerned about future financial uncertainty and need time, experience, support and other resources to successfully transition to a system of Local Control Funding.”

“Our hope is that this first look at California’s ambitious LCFF effort will provide policy makers and educators with the insight they need to provide effective guidance and support for the full implementation of local education plans.”

The research report, Toward a Grand Vision: Early Implementation of California’s Local Control Funding Formula was developed by a team of 12 independent researchers from SRI International, J. Koppich & Associates, the University of Southern California, Inverness Research and San Diego State University. The Stuart Foundation and the Heising-Simons Foundation provided funding for the project.

Source:  SRI International