Local Accountability: Community Input in Education Funding

Will a community-based approach to accountability and school funding work? This piece will contain a lot of acronyms and include some of my insights on the implementation of Local Accountability.

I’m a classroom teacher in Sacramento City Unified School District, and large urban local in California (43,000 students, 38% are English Learners, and over 60% are low-income). I am also active in my union local, Sacramento City Teachers Association, and I was elected as a representative to the State Council of the California Teachers Association (CTA). The opinions in this piece are only my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of either my school district, my local, CTA or NEA. I also blog at Reflections on Teaching.

california flagThis discussion centers around the new funding formula being used to allocate how California gives money to local school districts. For a host of reasons (lawsuits requiring funding-equity, Proposition 13 affecting local property taxes as a funding base for education, etc.) school monies in California for most districts come from the state. Traditionally, that has been in the form of base funding, and what are called categoricals, or specific funds for specific purposes, like English Language Acquisition funds, Foster Youth Programs, Migrant Programs, etc. Governor Brown has come up with a new formula that will allocate extra money, but allow local districts to come up with plans for how it will be spent. This is called Local Control Funding Formula or LCFF. The plans that districts have to write are called Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs).

The commentary from a previous guest blogger here on Cloaking Inequity and their discussion about Local Accountability pretty much agrees with what I’ve seen. Implementation of LCFF in the first year is all over the map throughout the state. Dictatorial and controlling districts are writing LCAPs that do not have any meaningful stakeholder input. Other districts are involving teachers representatives in a variety of areas of discussion like curriculum and instruction. Some districts have already had contract provisions for this, and for site-based decision making. Some districts have had well functioning school site councils (which included teacher, community and parent representatives) that are able to contribute to this process. Others sadly, still have SSCs that are a rubber-stamp for the site administrator or the district. Many districts are just confused.

Two things will likely need to be “tightened” in how LCAPs are created. First, the implementing language says districts must “consult” with stakeholders (teachers, parents, community). That word, consult, has lost any meaning at this point. For example, a district will hold a town hall on a issue, present their side, and take some questions. They will then proceed with their original proposal, without any changes or input from this meeting, and claim they “consulted” the public.

Michelle_RheeThis happened in DC with Rhee, and in districts run by Broad Superintendent (it’s in their rule book) and gone on to be a widespread practice. Consult has come to mean, “We’ll tell you what we’re doing, listen to you whine about it, then do it anyway.” This was a concern that I heard more than once at CTA State Council in March of this year.

They will either need to define “consult” better, or add other language like “based on a consensus of opinion from stakeholders” (this  language suggested by one State Council member). The state and CTA are saying we need to give the process time and look at it after the first year and that’s fair enough. But, I don’t think these problems will resolve themselves without districts being forced to change how they do business.

The next part that needs fixing is the structures for input at districts (SSC, District Advisory Committees, etc.) need to be strengthened. In my opinion, this will require more advice, direction and oversight from the state (something they have scaled back on with the horrific cuts to education that occurred during the recession). They will definitely need to beef up their oversight, BUT rules alone will not make this so. There will need to be an effort on the part of community groups and teachers unions to organize and demand that these committees be democratically created, democratically run, and listened to. If we want democracy, we’re going to have to demand it.

Sacramento_CapitolA previous article on Local Accountability alluded to “problems” with the LCAP in my district in Sacramento. Recent agreements with the district leave me more hopeful that future versions of our LCAP will be driven by teacher and community input. These changes came about because of a grass-roots effort between the community and unions.

I’m in one part of this, the teachers union. I can say that these efforts dovetail nicely with the approved strategic plan adopted by CTA. It calls on locals to do outreach and engagement not just to members, but to the greater community. I think this is the right direction, and will be the only way to make LCFF/LCAPs work. If this new system just turns into a way to funnel money to inside players, and students are not getting the services they need this will fail and we’ll be back in the land of categorical funding with the state telling local districts how they can and can’t spend money.

Alice Mercer, Teacher

See all of Cloaking Inequity’s posts on Community-Based Accountability here.

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Twitter: @AliceMercer

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