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Felix Adamo / The Californian

Ashley Glapenske, 6, measures the height of her wheat grass in summer classes at Roosevelt Elementary.

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Felix Adamo / The Californian

One of the summer activities at Roosevelt Elementary is growing plants such as 6-year-old Pricilla Martinez has done. Here Martinez measures the growth of the plant.

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Third-grader Roman Ortiz checks out a painted lady butterfly on the hand of his teacher Tamara Nichols at Roosevelt Elementary School. The class turned loose several butterflies.

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Ms. Nichols' third grade class at Roosevelt Elementary keeps a watchful eye on a butterfly they just released that was having a hard time getting airborne.

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First-grade teacher Melissa Blake was teaching about plant growth in her summer class at Roosevelt Elementary.

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Felix Adamo / The Californian

Children watch as third-grader teacher Tamara Nichols releases butterflies on the field at Roosevelt Elemetary.

Thirteen incoming third-graders at Roosevelt Elementary School watched a summer school science lesson on the life cycles of butterflies unfold at an insect release Thursday at the campus.

Teacher Tamara Nichols reached into a ventilated sack carrying 25 painted ladies and waited with her pointer finger extended for a butterfly to land on it.

"He's on! He's on! He's on!" one student shouted.

The insect's wings, still sticking together, first flapped slowly then fluttered.

"Come on little butterfly," another student whispered. "Fly away."

Nichols explained that some of the butterflies just weren't developed enough to fly.

The butterfly release was an example of hands-on learning activities that are staples of the Bakersfield City School District's much-needed summer school programs, the teacher said.

BCSD allocated $1.9 million more in state funding and $626,431 in federal dollars to serve English-language learners, low-income students and foster youth in its summer school programs.

The state prioritized those three student groups when it created a new system for funding K-12 education known as the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF).

Through the formula, the state funneled the most new dollars from voter-approved tax hikes and an improving economy to districts with the highest concentrations of English-language learners, low-income students and foster kids.

BCSD, where 87.7 percent of students are in one of those subgroups, used part of that new funding to expand its summer school program. It now serves about 5,000 students at 10 schools and is open to all BCSD students this year for the first time in about 10 years.

Xochitl Prieto, summer school principal at Roosevelt, said the increased funding will continue from 2014-2015 to 2016-2017 and allow the district to operate summer schools for eight weeks instead of the current four.

The added summer school funding is part of a new three-year, $86.4 million spending plan the BCSD school board approved Tuesday.

Districts throughout Kern County approved their versions of the BCSD spending plan -- Local Control and Accountability Plan documents (LCAP) -- this month, in keeping with a state deadline of July 1.

Mike Zulfa, assistant superintendent of instruction in the Kern High School District, said the high school LCAP focuses on maintaining programs the district has in the past gone into about $6 million in deficit spending to support.

"It's not so much that what you'll see is different but the fact that we are able to preserve programs such as teacher librarians," Zulfa said.

For other districts, such as BCSD and the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District, changes are on the horizon to add services either cut or scaled back as a result of years of economic decline.

Pam Bianchi, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction in Panama-Buena Vista, said the accountability planning process allows the school board more flexibility to work with stakeholders and tailor funding to local needs.

Panama directed millions of state dollars to reducing class sizes, hiring instructional intervention aides, implementing a tiered academic intervention program for students in-need and developing a four-year plan to support electronic devices for students.

"We're very excited," Bianchi said.

BCSD changes include:

* 42 more behavioral intervention specialists

* 10 regional parent learning centers to teach families how to support student learning as well as the hiring and training of 10 community relations liaisons

* class size reductions from 30 to 28 students per teacher in grades fourth through sixth and from 31 to 29 students per teacher for grades seventh and eighth

* plans to purchase Chromebooks for one of every two students in grades kindergarten through sixth and one for every middle school student.

BCSD Superintendent Rob Arias called the funding change "one of the most exciting things" that has happened in his career.

"To have the resources available to serve the children that need it the most, to bring actions that support children to fruition and to provide opportunities to extend learning in an exciting way -- for an educator -- there's nothing better than that," he said.

LCFF means more budgetary freedom for school districts and greater accountability to stakeholders involved in the budget process. BCSD, for example, held two community forums and met with 14 groups including an English learner advisory committee, the Bakersfield Elementary Teachers Association and student leaders.

Changes to reduce class sizes, hire and train more teachers and support staff and expand access to technology were recurring trends in stakeholder priorities voiced throughout Kern County districts.

Community leaders and administrators say changes that mimic their priorities are a long time coming.

Patrick Jackson, president of the NAACP Bakersfield branch, said the new spending plans, which have yet to be implemented, won't solve all problems in education but are steps in the right direction.

"It's always going to be a work in progress, so we'll see what we can do with this," he said.