(photo credit: scui3asteveo)
Teri Burns is senior director of policy programs for the California School Board Association, and she is also a school board member of the Natomas Unified School District. In this interview, Teri updates California Forward on the progress of the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), the new way of funding California’s schools by allowing for more control by districts over how they spend their funds.
We’re in the thick of the implementation of the new Local Control Funding Formula. How prepared are California’s districts?
It’s going well. We have been in over 20 regions; we have another ten events to attend to educate board members about LCFF. Schools and districts are in varying states of preparedness. Some are very engaged, some are walking cautiously. Folks are actively trying to learn everything they can about it. Board members have been to work shops by Children Now, by some of the civil rights groups, trying to collect as much information and knowledge as possible. Fewer are at the step of a completely refined budget process.
This is a total revamping of the budget process for California’s schools. With such a major change and a limited time to get districts up to speed, is this a race against the clock?
It’s a lot of information to absorb and think about the implications of. When you first start thinking about LCFF, you think “okay great, not many strings on our budget, we can do what we want.” But when we don’t know the accountability system and we don’t know the regulations, that makes us a little nervous.
What are some of the things districts are planning on spending their freed up funds on?
There are districts that are saying okay, we are going to take this money and target smaller class sizes to those students who are at the most at risk. We are working with our teachers associations to make that happen. Others are at the stage where they are talking with our teachers unions about what they think we can accomplish together. And others are still in the process of reaching out to the community. Elk Grove is a perfect example. They went out and on the same night, each of the board members had a meeting in their region to listen to folks about what they wanted money to be spent on. Now they’re sitting down to base a budget on that to try to plan a strategy for the year ahead.
Having community meetings was a mandated part of LCFF; the districts have to do it. Is there a reason it had to be mandated?
It was included because some districts have done outreach well in the past and some have done it poorly. This is designed to be an equity conversation and an inclusive conversation. It’s to make sure that you’re really going to have these meetings in those communities where that hasn’t been happening; that was the goal. It wasn’t not happening in the past because parents refused to participate, it was not happening because districts weren’t outreaching. Additionally, districts need to be flexible about scheduling. If most parents are working until 5 o clock, having a meeting in the middle of the day doesn’t make any sense.
What’s the timeline like moving forward with LCFF? When will the regulations start to come down?
In November the State Board of Education is going to get a couple of options to consider in the way of regulations. That will give us some insights into where they’ll be headed. That has got some folks very uncomfortable until they know further details. When we get a little more info, people will have a firmer idea of how to do their budgets.
What’s the best case scenario for schools in terms of the regulations that will come down from the state?
Best case scenario is that the regulations are still very flexible and that they clarify a number of the pending questions. The discussion of spending in proportion to the students who generate the money… what does that mean? There are a number of regulations out there that are very district specific questions. If I am a rapidly growing district, when do you do my student count? Today I might be a high concentration district, but by the end of the year I might not be. When do I count if I’m on that cusp? Things like that. How does this work in real life?
And the worst case scenario?
Stuff that gets real prescriptive, like you must spend these dollars very specifically, on these children, nothing else. The money has to be new programs, they can’t be old programs. That turns it into categoricals again. You must spend this 100k on gifted kids, you must spend this 100k on reading materials. That kind of stuff gets us right back to where we were before LCFF.
Is there a risk of that happening?
Is there risk, certainly. I don’t think it ever gets that bad, but I think that there is a good risk that there will be some things that are more prescriptive. But for right now, we remain optimistic that the regulations won’t be stifling and will give us a chance to really improve our schools.