When he introduced his final budget proposal, Gov. Jerry Brown faced questions, uncertainty and criticism over his plan to fully fund the Local Control Funding Formula several years ahead of schedule.
Enacted in 2013, LCFF changed the way the state allocates funding for K-12 education. It provides more money for districts with high populations of English learner and low-income students.
Beyond a formula for calculating how funds will be distributed and basic transparency and accountability requirements, the funds are given for districts to spend as they best see fit. Each district develops and implements a Local Control and Accountability Plan, i.e., “LCAP,” to plan for spending and ensure funds are meeting local stakeholder concerns.
As a champion of self-governance and local control, I intuitively support LCFF. When we see endless centralization and bureaucratization of public services, it’s refreshing to see the state return power and decision-making authority to local school districts. At the same time, more money alone will not fix our broken education system.
Closing the achievement gap requires a sensitivity to the unique situations of each locality. As Brown accurately noted, “This is not going to be solved in Sacramento.”
LCFF is not without its skeptics and opponents. School reform and civil rights groups have both questioned whether additional money is effectively being spent on its targeted recipients and criticized Brown’s laissez-faire approach to LCFF.
I see where the skeptics are coming from. California taxpayers have invested tens of billions of dollars in LCFF, and Brown’s 2018-19 budget provides billions more. We should demand that our tax dollars be put to good use. That said, there isn’t clear, statewide data to demonstrate whether or not LCFF is actually closing the achievement gap, yet.
The Learning Policy Institute, an education think tank, recently released a study on the effects of LCFF on high school students. The study concluded that LCFF had raised graduation rates and improved academic achievement in other ways. However, critics of LCFF, such as Bill Lucia of EdVoice, were quick to point out perceived errors, inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the study methodology.
The debate has yet to be settled on the statewide effectiveness of LCFF.
But what about locally?
Last Fall, I attended Bakersfield City School District’s Community Partners in Education Day. As both the product of four BCSD schools (William Penn, Owens Primary, Owens Intermediate and Stiern Middle School) and an advocate for public schools, I was interested in the current state of my school district. I was impressed.
What I observed was district leadership and staff rallying around a Blueprint for Academic Success designed to ensure every student had access to a quality education and left their district prepared to succeed in high school and beyond.
Last month, BCSD presented its LCAP Mid-Year Review findings. BCSD Superintendent Doc Ervin joined me for a radio interview last week, and we had a chance to discuss the results his district is seeing.
If you haven’t met Doc, you don’t know what you’re missing. Charismatic, sharp, and gushing with a contagious enthusiasm for improving education outcomes, he is a force to be encountered. BCSD snagged him from Greenfield Union School District in Monterey County. Prior to that, he was Assistant Superintendent of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, where he established key initiatives that resulted in gains for all students, outpacing performance improvements in both the L.A. Unified School District and other area districts.
It’s hard not to be excited about the work he’s leading at BCSD to integrate student-centric reforms and strategies into the largest K-8 district in the state.
BCSD’s LCAP centers around three goals: academic achievement, social emotional learning, and family and community engagement. The district is working so that every student, including low-income, English-learners, and foster youths, meet grade level expectations. It is investing in ensuring safe, healthy and secure environments for all students, parents and employees. And, it’s committed to welcoming and engaging all parents and community stakeholders in the learning process.
Intuitively, it makes sense. Healthy students with engaged parents outperform students who lack such “privileges.”
From those goals, the district has identified five “key levers” that enable their success: effective school leaders, effective teachers, targeted student support systems, school climate and culture, and family and community engagement.
Ervin emphasized the critical role of BCSD’s equity-based support model to ensuring that all students receive access to opportunities according to their specific needs. LCFF and the district’s targeted student support systems are allowing the deployment of resources to engage students at all learning levels, from intervention through enrichment.
But, is it working? Is BCSD closing the achievement gap? Simply put, yes.
In English Language Arts, the number of students meeting or exceeding state standards has increased by 31 percent since 2014-15. Just as encouraging, the number of students who are not meeting standards has decreased by 18 percent.
In mathematics, students meeting or exceeding standards have increased by 33 percent over the same period, and students not meeting standards have decreased by 9 percent.
Parental engagement is off-the-charts. Nearly 800 parents and caregivers attended their most recent Parent University, a leading indicator of future student success.
Time will tell if LCFF is the key to improving student achievement. But these are early indicators that for BCSD, LCFF is working.
BCSD and Doc Ervin deserve commendation for their work and approach. This is the type of forward-thinking education leadership our students deserve.