Students at Fremont High School said new funds coming to their school should be spent on counselors and mentors for students. Their peers at Skyline High said they’d like to see higher teacher salaries to assure getting good teachers. And Castlemont High students asked that money be spent to improve safety at their school.
The topic at issue for these teenagers and dozens of parents, teachers, and administrators who gathered with them at a forum last week was Local Control Funding, the new formula passed into law for how state education money will flow to schools and how it will get spent.
The Local Control Funding Formula means big changes for California. For starters, the Formula calls for increasing the state’s education spending for the first time in eight years, a big relief after years of recessionary cuts. Every public school in the state will receive more per student enrolled.
Beyond a slight increase in the base grant districts receive for each student, the state’s new funding formula will give districts supplemental grants for each student who is low-income, an English language learner, or a foster child. For districts that have a majority of students who fit in these categories, the state formula gives a concentration grant. In Oakland Unified School District, two thirds of students come from low-income families. About a third are English learners and a number are foster children.
Then, as the name Local Control Funding Formula implies, the law states that local school communities get to make many of the decisions on how to spend these supplemental and concentration grants. Districts are beholden to include parents and students in the decision making process. (See more about LCFF from Children Now.)
“This a great thing when we can get parents, students and teachers here for a positive event, an opportunity,” said Fremont High School Principal, Emiliano Sanchez. “I am hoping we can stop the bleeding in the budget. We need more money. We need to be providing our students with a holistic education that includes art and music again.”
On long sheets of paper where students, parents, teachers wrote their wishes, the words described basic wishes, “counselors that know students, ability to feel safe, teachers move involved in student learning.”
The event was organized by the California Endowment, a large health and education foundation, and is one of twelve so-called “School Success Express” forums, stops the Endowment is making around the state to galvanize communities around the opportunity to make decisions. Representatives of several other nonprofits were there, as were Oakland’s Acting Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gary Yee and State Board of Education member Bruce Holiday.
“There is all of a sudden political will” in the state to improve education spending and to listen to local voices, Yee said.
And there was a great deal of interest among the approximately 300 people there to have their voices heard. “What we’ve been fighting for in LCFF (Local Control Funding Formula) is to make it right for schools like Fremont and Castlemont at getting what is needed to educate our students,” said Akua Jackson of Youth Together.
Decision making at the local level is very different from the way things have worked in California for the past couple of decades, when numerous state laws dictated how districts had to spend their money. Beyond a basic requirement about instruction following certain curriculum guidelines that would be expected in any state, California has had a slew of “categorical funding” streams where money going to school districts for very specific purposes could not be used for other things. For instance, money earmarked for earthquake retrofits of school buildings could not be used to fix a leaky roof.
Now, districts — with input from teachers, parents and students — get to decide how to spend what used to be the various categorical funding grants, or funds beyond those for providing instruction towards academic subjects. The theory is that local people know best whether funding for after-school programs or smaller classes would most help English language learners or children from backgrounds where enrichment activities were out of financial reach.
Dr. Yee said Oakland has not yet been informed how much additional money it should expect to receive from the state this year. As the formula is rolled out to full implementation over the next five or six years, however, Oakland should receive $3,000 to $4,000 more per student or upwards of $12,000 per student. By comparison, state education spending was about $9,000 per student last year.
As parents contemplated what the extra spending could mean, organizers of the School Success Express provided translators in Spanish, Cantonese and Mandarin so more voices could be heard. At the end of the evening, parents, grandparents and students all took to the microphone to share what their circle or table had expressed in wishes for their students.
California Endowment officials promised to bring the lists of their wishes to Sacramento where state legislators and Department of Education staff are putting on final touches to implementation of the new funding law.