By Deb McCurdy, special to K12NN and reposted with permission.
Students throughout California are finally getting some relief. A few weeks ago, the state legislature reached a compromise on the 2013-2014 budget, which also includes a plan for future K-12 public education funding, and Governor Brown has signed it. The compromise budget provides for about $55.3 billion in local and state revenue for K-12 education and two-year community colleges next year under Proposition 98. The original per pupil allocation, outlined in Governor Brown’s May Revise, under the new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), has now been increased by $500 per student thanks to the advocacy efforts of many concerned education groups, including the California State PTA. The LCFF is a game changer for our students, so it is vital that its premise and implementation are well thought out.
Simply put, the LCFF allots a baseline of funds for all school districts and then adds dollars to that base, depending on the percentage of English Language Learners and economically disadvantaged students in any given school district. For South Pasadena Unified this was not entirely good news, since our percentage of students in those categories falls short of the required quota to send those extra dollars our way. So while we have some students who fall into these categories to serve, we will not be receiving all of the additional funding to do so. Many districts in our area fall into this unfortunate pickle. There is, however, a bright spot. The California State PTA was one of many groups that successfully advocated for an increase the baseline for all districts, with a starting point of 2007-2008 funding levels, so districts could more effectively serve all students. It’s important to remember that this new formula does not pay back all of the money schools are owed. It merely sets a level at which we can begin to recover from the last six years of cuts.
Another facet of the LCFF is the loosening of required spending mandates. This is the “local control part.” This new freedom, however, carries with it responsibilities and concerns. How will districts be held accountable for the allocation of these dollars and the results of their spending? Will the extra dollars actually go towards helping disadvantaged students? The California State PTA has called for plans to be put in place to keep track of how these dollars are spent and how success will be measured and shared with the larger community.
CA PTA is also emphasizing the need for all students to have access to a full curriculum. “Whether through a district plan, site plan, block grant or other method, every school district must ensure that all students have access to a full curriculum that includes arts, science, P.E., civics, and more.”
For example, SPUSD’s Visual and Performing Arts Policy states that the Superintendent shall develop a sequential curriculum and budgeted plan for dance, music, theatre, and visual arts and that all students, K-12, will have equitable access to these classes. With the LCFF, it is now up to individual districts to budget and allocate the appropriate funding to allow all students access to these types of programs. Here too is where the accountability piece of the puzzle comes into play. CA PTA is calling for the establishment of clear mechanisms for accountability, transparency and meaningful engagement of parents, teachers, staff and local members of the school community in order to ensure that all students receive a full curriculum.
In addition, the 2013-2014 budget provides a one-time infusion of $1.2 billion towards implementing the new Common Core Standards (CCS), which are scheduled to be in place by the 2014-2015 school year. The money is designated for professional development; instructional materials and technology to help our teachers and students shift towards this new curriculum and testing which focuses on creativity, communication, critical thinking and collaboration.
The next few years will mark many firsts for students in California. The Local Control Funding Formula redesigns and simplifies public education funding, while the new Common Core Standards redesigns curriculum and the methods used to measure student understanding and proficiency. As we progress, it will be important to keep in mind that along with the LCFF and the CCS, comes a need to be flexible in other areas. Adjustments to how we approach this new wave of public education will most likely be made as we go. Keeping our focus on the goal of these changes – meeting the various needs of all of our students — will be paramount.