(photo credit: Matthew Grant Anson)
The Local Control Funding Formula has been an issue California Forward has been aggressive about covering because of the sweeping, necessary changes the law brings to funding our state’s schools. Less touched upon, by us and other media in the state, is what it’s like for a district to have to implement not just LCFF, but Common Core at the same time. While LCFF significantly alters the way schools are funded, Common Core significantly alters the type of instruction students across the nation will be receiving. They are major shifts happening at the same time, which is why we’ve reached out to school board members and school officials across the state for an update on implementation in their respective districts, as well as some analysis of the unique challenges facing each district.
In this interview, CA Fwd sent questions to the finance department of the Los Angeles Unified School District, and these are the official responses on behalf of the district on the ongoing changes.
What’s the process been like implementing LCFF in your district?
Exciting.LCFF and the LCAP represent the biggest positive change in school finance in decades. We are very excited about the opportunity to better align resources to meet the needs of students with the greatest challenges. While we are learning a lot during this first year, we are pleased with the level of engagement we are having with our community around student goals and how we can allocate resources to achieve those goals.
What are the unique challenges facing LAUSD?
Scale. We’re the second largest school district in the country with over 900,000 students preK through Adult. Our district stretches over 700 square miles. While we have developed multiple ways to engage our community via online surveys, town halls, school budget meetings, etc, we know that we still have a lot of work to have deep engagement.
In addition, one of our largest concerns has had to do with the paperwork and documentation required to verify our high-need student populations. The best example is the conflict that exists between the federal Free and Reduced Price Meals Program and Provision 2 status schools, and the documentation requirements that the California Department of Education (CDE) has imposed on all school districts.The federal program guidelines dictate that on campuses where exceptionally high concentrations of student poverty exist, those schools may identify themselves as Provision 2 campuses, which eliminates the paperwork requirement for these campuses for up to 4 years at a time. This is because poverty is so high at these schools that it really doesn’t change much over time, but to ensure we update our data, we can revisit this assessment every 4 years. Federal rules also clearly state that schools should not distribute the income verification form for the program during these 4 years. The CDE has instituted an income verification process for these schools regardless of these federal program rules and now dictates that school districts use an alternative income verification form (which cannot be the federal form), which collects the same information as the federal form, except it must not be used for the federal program.
Are the LCAP deadlines and other benchmarks reachable or should they be pushed back?
We feel that the deadlines are achievable. Given that this is the first year of implementation, this is a learning process for all parties to the model. We have been reaching out to our partners and stakeholders since the beginning of the academic year, and are working to integrate these priorities and data in our budget plan.
What’s your primary takeaway for the new opportunities that come with LCFF?
We have one of the best opportunities to remake public education finance to ensure it supports students with the highest needs. This is our chance to refocus our work away from compliance-based activities tied to multiple funding sources, to a single primary set of funding tied to student outcomes. This is the accountability that we really want, where we focus on what we’re doing right for kids and how to expand and replicate that work.
How has your district gone about shifting to Common Core?
The LAUSD has a multi-year transition plan to implement the Common Core State Standards. The work of preparing for and initiating rollout of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and new approaches to teaching that will accompany the CCSS are tightly linked with the commitment to ensuring that every child has completed the A-G requirements prior to their graduation from high school, with our Common Core Technology Project which will move the entire system (students, teachers and administrators) to tablets with preloaded Common Core digital content. These tablets will include the supports to English Language Learners, Students with disabilities, and our Gifted/high ability students so that every student may learn and achieve at high levels.
The multi-year plan includes a wide range of professional development for teachers across the District for each grade level and across the disciplines. Instructional resources are also updated and provided to classroom teachers and school level leaders. Educational Service Center Staff from each of the five service centers are also receiving and providing professional development for leaders and teachers. The school District also has a plan to update instructional materials over several years with Common Core State standards aligned materials.
Do you think having to do LCFF and Common Core implementation at the same time makes things difficult?
While there may be some difficulty in taking on these tasks concurrently, it’s really quite important that we do so. The LCFF supports the Local Control Accountability Plan, which is really a strategic implementation plan describing the District’s academic plan of action for the next three years. Given that the Common Core is “going live” in this same window, we must implement the LCFF/LCAP and Common Core at the same time. The LCAP allows us to continue to focus our attention and performance metrics on the work we are already doing.
How do you differentiate between the two when doing outreach to parents?
We don’t differentiate. We make sure we are clear about the goals we want our students to achieve, then, we talk about the strategies we can leverage to reach those goals. The implementation of Common Core is one of those strategies. Finally we talk about how to align resources to ensure we implement those strategies.
Has LCFF’s mandated parent outreach changed the way your district communicates with parents?
It has allowed us to deepen and accelerate the work we were already doing with our parents. We began our outreach efforts in September and October with a series of regional town hall meetings, which were also supported by an online survey, to which over 10,000 community members responded. We have also continued to host community meetings across the District, introducing and explaining the new funding formula, and talking to parents and community members about their very important roles in the development and prioritization of our budget.
We view the current year as a learning process, in which we continue to gather information, document our process, and identify areas where we can improve and leverage best practices from other organizations.
What’s your take on the LCFF regulations as they stand now?
There’s a great deal of discussion around the regulations, including a lot of misinformation and confusion. It is critical for a steady stream of accurate and readily understood information to continue to flow from the California Department of Education, Department of Finance, State Board of Education, and their proxies.