Ten years ago, California implemented the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) with the goal to improve student outcomes by providing more funding to districts with larger populations of low-income students, English language learners, and foster youth. In our latest Speaker Series event, PPIC president and CEO Tani Cantil-Sakauye and a panel of experts explored how this funding approach has served California’s students.
Along with more funding, LCFF gave districts greater autonomy, PPIC research fellow Julien Lafortune explained in a short presentation on the funding formula; that is, the state did not dictate district spending. Although LCFF improved student outcomes in areas such as test scores and college readiness, not all funds reached high-need students, raising the question of whether LCFF needs to be retuned to better target schools rather than districts.
In recent years, the state moved from ranking at the bottom of per pupil spending to being in the top 20. Tony Thurmond, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, explained that LCFF “created a framework to allow family members to be part of the decision-making about how these dollars get spent.”
Josh Hoover, California State Assemblymember, praised LCFF for allowing “local governments and local school boards to have more control over the priorities they wanted in the communities,” but noted that the funding formula has its flaws. Hoover used the example of a district he had represented that included a higher-income city and a lower-income city. Despite the high-need students in one community, the mix of incomes meant the district did not qualify for higher funding dollars. The situation highlighted the need to expand funding to a site-based system that looks at individual schools.
While the promise of LCFF has not been fully realized, it has “allowed parents, educators, and administrators to co-create plans,” Ben Chida, chief deputy cabinet secretary, said, “all powered by an equitable funding system.” For Chida, the great success of LCFF has been giving families and parents a seat at the decision-making table regarding budgets and priorities.
“The equity [of LCFF] is setting an example for other funding streams,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “It proves the need for sustainable funding for an equitable flow to all students.”
The panel criticized the document, known as the Local Control and Accountability Plan or LCAP, meant to offer families insight into district spending as inaccessible and complex. “In practice, it has not been a valuable tool for parental engagement and accountability,” Hoover said, recommending that the document be made more accessible and meaningful to stakeholders.
Thurmond described districts that excel in bringing the community into discussions of complicated budgets, districts that partner with facilitators to help families understand spending plans. “It’s an opportunity for family engagement at its best,” Thurmond said. By explaining the plans and preparing the community, districts give people a voice around the choices that will be made for their schools.
Building on the idea of community engagement, Chida said, “What parents and families want is not to micromanage every decision happening at the school; but they do want a say in the key decisions—budget decisions, programmatic decisions, key priority decisions.”
PPIC’s Speaker Series on California’s Future invites thought leaders and changemakers with diverse perspectives to participate critically, constructively, and collaboratively in public conversations. The purpose is to give Californians a better understanding of how our leaders are addressing the challenges facing our state.
PPIC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it support, endorse, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Any opinions expressed by event participants are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect any position of the Public Policy Institute of California.