The key to LCFF: Authentic parent engagement

150 150 Matthew Grant Anson

(photo credit: Innovation School)

California Forward believes that better decisions are made closer to the people they affect. Trusting communities with their own futures is a positive development to increase accountability and improve results in our state. 

Californians believe that our students need to stay in school and do better in the classroom to be prepared for the 21st Century. The development of regulations by the State Education Board for the Local Control Funding Formula for public schools has been a big issue recently in the state. What do education leaders think about these new regulations?

We will be talking with them in coming posts on CAFwd. 

We spoke with Oscar E. Cruz of Families in Schools. Here are some of his thoughts. 

What’s your opinion on the approved LCFF regulations?

I think that the document of regulations and the standards that were approved were progressive from the initial draft that was submitted at first. There was a lot of input taken and some elements were improved. There are still some areas where there is a lack of guidance for districts using grants for these targeted communities.

It’s a 12 hour process with people having a chance to speak a minute each, and while that’s important, we don’t see how that’s authentic or the most important way of engaging families. It’s great to have 1 minute speaking opportunities, but we want the culture to change so parents feel more welcome. From the regulations that were drafted, we still think more can be done in order to create more credibility.

How would you define “authentic parent engagement”?

We have defined parental engagement in 6 different components. First is a welcoming environment. The number one complaint of families is they come and staff aren’t ready to interact. From the extreme of being discriminated against and being pushed out and ignored, to subtle ways. The second is effective communications. Schools are not well prepared to have communication with families. They put a flyer in a student’s backpack and that’s no longer enough.

It may satisfy a law or check a box, but that’s not authentic. The school needs to come out to the community. The third is that we are seeing that many families have grievances through formal processes but don’t get called back. Four is we’re looking at how schools invest their resources in after-school programs that are family friendly. All of that foundational support is non-existent in many schools. Five is authentic engagement of families in being able to take positions in school on a day-to-day level. Six, if the budget doesn’t reflect an investment in parent engagement, it’s pretty much lip service.

Since the introduction of LCFF would you say attention paid to parent engagement has increased?

I think the LCFF in terms of the law itself has stimulated parent engagement. Right now the challenge is whether implementation will match the intent. If you look closely, parent engagement has been set as one of the priorities. It’s been elevated to become an outcome in itself. A goal. We think the law already has done a lot in highlighting that importance, now the question is whether the State Board or districts will keep districts accountable for the engagement.

 How can LCFF be used to keep them accountable?

Districts are going to have to address how they’re addressing parent engagement. What we’ve seen is it’s not that it’s lacking completely throughout, it’s not yet a systematic or institutionalized way to improve education. We tend to call it “random acts of kindness.” However the state and the districts haven’t been able to invest the right resources. I want it institutionalized and not random.

What’s the current state of parent engagement in California’s schools?

The engagement is random and it’s not strategic. They haven’t linked it as much to student achievement. What I would say is its current state does gives us the promise that authentic engagement can be implemented throughout CA. The law passing in itself hasn’t meant anything. That’s why we’re investing so much time in implementation. If they get it wrong, nothing’s going to change. We hope we will be able to ensure that the implementation and guidelines will reflect what’s called for.

What’s the next step?

I think the next step for districts is to figure out how parents can have a greater say on where the money goes. Local control and local control funding is really controlled by the district, there’s nothing that requires it to be transferred out to the school itself or the parent itself. 

Are you involved in helping to accomplish that? 

We’re trying to influence it as much as others. We want to make sure that they have a better sense of what authentic engagement looks like. We want them to recognize what is good and what is bad.  I think that LCFF does provide a great opportunity to improve how schools interact with parents, and at the end of the day a parent wants to know that when they go to a school someone will be there to welcome them, to help them, to guide them. No matter how much we focus on school board meetings or advisory committees, parent engagement has to happen on a day-to-day level in every single school. At the end of the day, parents are the real accountability for LCFF. Ifthey’re engaged, they’ll know if the money is being used right or not.  

Matthew Grant Anson

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