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Monday, December 6, 2021

Walters: “achievement gap” still plagues California schools

Then the Governor. Jerry Brown and the Legislature revised funding for California public schools in 2013 with the stated goal of closing the “achievement gap” separating poorer and better-off students.

The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) gave local school officials much more leeway by eliminating most “categorical benefits” that required spending on specific purposes. In contrast, the LCFF also gave school districts special grants that they spent on improving the education of children on the other side of the chasm.

Since its adoption, the government has also dramatically increased spending on schools. The state budget for 2021-22 is tied to $ 123.9 billion in state and local funding for schools, nearly double the 2013 level, and spending per student at $ 21,555, “the highest level ever “. California schools are also receiving $ 13.6 billion from the federal government to help mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In its broadest sense, LCFF was guided by the general consensus that changes in cash flow can have a significant impact on learning outcomes. However, from the beginning, the LCFF was full of controversy – not about its concept, but rather about its implementation.

Brown insisted that local school officials could be trusted to wisely spend money for its intended purpose, with very little — almost none — government control. It was assumed that local voters and parents would control the LCFF through local implementation plans.

However, critics – civil rights and school reform groups – have complained that implementation plans are indecipherable and that school districts often divert money intended to improve the outcomes of children at risk for other purposes. One huge loophole allowed LCFF funds that were left unspent in one fiscal year to be carried over to the next year and spent without restrictions.

Disputes over how money is or is not spent have been fought in the districts, sometimes in the courts. Two years ago, government auditor Elaine Hole issued a report sharply criticizing the lack of oversight.

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“We are particularly concerned that the state does not explicitly require districts to spend their additional and focused funds on targeted student groups or track the spending of those funds,” Hole said in the report.

The Legislature this year closed a ridiculous loophole over unspent funds, but after eight years, we should have some idea of ​​whether the LCFF, backed by an additional billion dollars, has provided significant help to the children who need it most, or just become an exercise. in creative accounting.

A recent attempt to assess its effectiveness was undertaken by Policy Analysis for Education in California (PACE), a prestigious consortium of educational scholars from five major universities.

“As researchers who have studied the implementation of the LCFF for a long time, we started from the perspective… that the LCFF has a higher level of equity in both incremental funding… and improved outcomes for historically underserved student groups,” the PACE report says. “But despite this progress, California continues to lag behind the country as a whole when it comes to educational outcomes, and many student groups – especially Black and Hispanic English language students, underprivileged students, and students with disabilities – continue to experience wide and unsettling opportunities and achievement gaps. “

Among other concerns, PACE complains that schools with the highest concentration of at-risk children tend to have the least experienced and capable teachers as well, although it does not mention that seniority rules are the main cause of this dissonance.

Sadly, we still don’t know if the LCFF will succeed or join a long list of California concept concepts like the mournful bullet train that fall short of promises.

Dan Walters is a Columnist for CalMatters.

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