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In 2013, California passed a new school funding law – the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) – which changed the way school districts receive and allocate state dollars. Previously, more than 40 state categorical programs provided restricted state dollars that districts could use for only certain activities.

At the heart of the LCFF are two main ideas: First, that school districts should have the flexibility to decide how they spend money sent to them by the state. Second, that disadvantaged children are more costly to serve and equity can be improved by allocating supplemental and concentration grants to districts based on their number of high-needs students (English learners, students in foster care and low-income youth) to increase or improve the services to those students.

In return for the extra resources and flexibility, the LCFF was sold to the Legislature as a mechanism to increase overall achievement and allocate state resources more efficiently to help the most disadvantaged students and close achievement gaps.  LCFF relies on something called the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), a three-year planning tool districts update annually to communicate their plans to improve student performance in exchange for all the state money and flexibility they receive. While the LCFF-LCAP system marks a major shift in the way California finances school districts, it has also brought on some serious problems:

LCFF and LCAP: Service

2. LCAPs are an incomplete picture of spending, and are complicated and unclear: LCAPs are not presented in a format that is accessible to all Californians. They’re quite long – Los Angeles Unified School District’s 2015-16 LCAP was 401 pages – and they’re dense – full of columns, narrative, acronyms and numbers that are unclear for many.  It’s challenging to draw direct information from LCAPs. For example, the state doesn’t require districts to divulge how much of their total budget is shown on their LCAP. Districts get to show what they want to show – making it difficult for anyone reviewing the plan to see how much or how little of their total dollars are going where. The Education Trust-West report reviewed 40 districts’ LCAPs and found that Redondo Beach Unified School District’s LCAP, for example, represented only 4% of their total budget.  

1. LCAPs aren’t transparent: You can’t see if the kids this law was designed to help (English learners, foster youth and low-income youth) are actually receiving more or a better education as a result of their school district receiving extra state dollars under the new funding formula. According to a report by The Education Trust-West, “It is impossible in most cases to trace whether supplemental/ concentration funds followed the high-needs students who generated them.” While some LCAPs delineate that their supplement/concentration funding are being used for high-needs groups, many do not identify how all their supplemental/concentration funding is being used or highlight the funding separately from their base funding. This makes it impossible to know if new dollars were spent on the neediest kids.  ​

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