The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) was enacted in 2013-14 with three major goals: to simplify California’s K–12 school finance system, increase local control over spending, and provide additional funding to districts with large shares of high-need students—those who are low income, English Learners, homeless, and/or foster youth. At a lunchtime event in Sacramento last Thursday, PPIC researcher Julien Lafortune shared key findings from a new report that looks at increased spending under the LCFF. Then, a panel of experts offered state and local perspectives on the successes and challenges of directing funding to high-need students.
The PPIC report offers new statewide evidence on how school resources have been affected by LCFF; it also examines the extent to which these resources are reaching the highest-need students. It finds that LCFF funding is, for the most part, reaching the high-need students for whom it was intended. But the funding formula imperfectly targets high-need students in lower-need districts.
Kent Kern, superintendent of schools for the San Juan Unified School District, highlighted the challenges of serving high-need students in a district with wide disparities across schools. At 54.5%, his district’s share of high-need students is just below the LCFF’s “high need” funding threshold; however, 19 of its 64 schools have shares of high-need students that are 80% or above. “One of my schools that’s actually at the 99th percentile is a mile away from a school in another district. If we received the same funding as that district got, [our] school would be generating $1.4 million more.”
Not surprisingly, Kern would welcome a change to the LCFF that could benefit the high-need students in his district: “I think there would be some threshold that would allow schools with high-need concentrations to get more money.”
From a statewide perspective, however, the LCFF’s district-level approach is important. Michael Kirst, professor emeritus at Stanford and a key LCFF architect, emphasized the importance of providing additional funding to districts with the highest concentrations of need, to help them address particularly difficult educational challenges: “I would continue to support the theory of concentration, though I realize there are tradeoffs.” Samantha Tran, senior managing director at Children Now, pointed out that when the LCFF was being developed, many stakeholders were concerned that a school-level funding model could create perverse incentives: “If a border line could be drawn that allows for deeper concentration that draws down more state dollars . . . that is not the policy we want in place. We don’t want to perpetuate segregation.”
Asked what they would change about the LCFF, Kirst and Tran agreed on the need for more money as well as greater transparency on spending. Kirst noted that “it takes more than money” to retain teachers and improve student outcomes, but there are clear links between spending and achievement. And Tran said that while she has “no interest in bean counting,” the state needs a clearer understanding of trends in spending and outcomes.
From both the state and the local perspective, the LCFF has been successful in focusing attention on high-need students. As Tran put it, “We’re actually having a conversation about high-need schools . . . that’s a success.” One of the biggest challenges, from Kern’s perspective, is that people expect “too much change too fast. . . . I think we just need to stay the course.”