Breaking News: Community-based Funding and Accountability working in California

I am currently sitting in the Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) annual conference being held in Sacramento. A new study just dropped that show money clearly matters in California school finance and that it has had a positive impact on student achievement and graduation rates across the state.

California has been engaged in community-based funding and accountability for the past several years. I have been writing about it for five years now. (See Trumpeting Local Accountability Idea for 5 years!)

Here is the press release from the Learning Policy Center detailing the finding in the new school finance study:

California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), the school finance overhaul enacted in 2013, is having a measurable positive impact on students’ academic achievement and graduation rates, improving outcomes and narrowing  gaps, according to a study released today by the Learning Policy Institute. The findings were discussed at a meeting of Policy Analysis for California Education in Sacramento. LCFF reallocated school finances based on students need and gave school districts significantly more flexibility in spending.  Schools receive greater funding for each student who is low-income, an English learner, or in foster care. The new formula has come with an increase in k-12 funding—a total of $18 billion by the time LCFF is fully implemented. This is one of the first studies on the impact of LCFF on students’ academic achievement and graduation rates.

The study, Money and Freedom: The Impact of California’s School Finance Reform, examines high school graduation rates, and student achievement by grade and subject (mathematics and reading) in the years before and after the implementation of LCFF for all public schools in California. The study authors found significant increases in all of these areas that track the implementation of LCFF. They also found that students who received higher “dosages” of LCFF (that is, attend school in highest-poverty districts, which receive greater funding under the formula) showed greater academic gains.

Not only did LCFF improve student achievement across the board, the formula¾which provides greater funding for high-poverty schools than for low-poverty schools¾helped to reduce the achievement gap for low-income students and students of color. The authors found that a $1,000 increase in per-pupil revenue for students in grades 10 – 12 increased graduation rates by 5.3 percentage points for students overall and by 6.1 percentage points for low-income children.

The study’s authors also examined the areas in which school districts increased their investments under LCFF. Those increased investments resulted in lower student-to-teacher ratios, increased per-pupil expenditures, increased teacher salaries, and increased instructional expenditures. A significant proportion of districts’ expenditures under LCFF were focused on the classroom. The authors hypothesize that higher teacher salaries may help schools and districts attract and retain better-prepared, high-quality teachers. Recruitment and retention of a high-quality teacher workforce is associated with greater student academic success.

The study concludes that, “Money targeted to students’ needs can make a significant difference in outcomes and narrow achievement gaps.” More succinctly, “Money matters.”

This new study is fantastic news and is important push back again the constituency that has been arguing money doesn’t matter in education for decades and the crowd that has been opposed to community-based approaches to education policy.

The implications for your state is that research is showing that the community-based approach to school finance and accountability should lead to greater student academic success. Please weaponize this information in your local communities and legislatures. To learn even more about community-based accountability click here.

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