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California School Fiscal Services

Providing comprehensive business office and consulting services to K-12 traditional schools and charters

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My Word: Transparency desperately needed on school funding

Posted on April 20, 2017 at 12:05 AM

Check out this opinion piece from Ted Lempert, president of Children Now and Ryan J. Smith, executive director of The Education Trust–West..  They suggest that LCAP should be reported out at the site level rather than the entire district.  Some very interesting food for thought about what the word "transparency" truly means.  

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Gov. Jerry Brown fundamentally changed how we fund our K-12 education system when he signed the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) into law in 2013. Since doing away with the archaic system that sustained inequitable school funding, California has been pushing dollars and decision-making to the district level, and providing more funding for the students that need it most.


Despite these improvements, the success of the funding formula is in jeopardy unless the alarming lack of transparency into how schools are spending this money and whether the investments are improving student outcomes is fixed.


Our organizations pushed for the funding formula and continue to believe in its benefits and potential to close opportunity and achievement gaps for our 6.2 million students. Since LCFF’s passage, we have seen promising changes around the state — a boost in community engagement, more equitable funding of districts and increased efforts to reduce chronic absenteeism and improve school climate, among others. However, since LCFF’s passage, we and many others have tried every possible way to build fiscal transparency into the system to no avail.


Currently, LCFF requires districts to report how the districts overall – not the schools specifically – are spending their dollars. Without school-level expenditures, we cannot tell if districts are spending these additional dollars to serve the schools and students that generated them — English learner, low-income, and foster youth students.


These dollars are intended to increase or improve services for those students, but the lack of transparency on actual expenditures makes it nearly impossible to gauge the impact of those investments, or even determine if they’re actually occurring.


Recent research — including a study conducted by The Education Trust-West (ETW) — underscores these concerns. ETW’s research found that while funding has become more equitable across California school districts, there is little evidence to prove this funding has translated into more opportunities or success for students in low-income schools.


That is why Assemblymember Shirley Weber has introduced AB1321. It will give us the ability to determine why this is happening and the information necessary to fix it.


Transparency and accessibility are core to LCFF. When the governor introduced the formula in his January 2013 budget proposal, he stated that it would “greatly increase transparency… empowering parents and local communities to access information in a more user friendly manner and enhance their ability to engage in local school financial matters.” AB 1321 brings such transparency to every district, ensuring LCFF in practice truly embraces the intended principles of the original LCFF legislation by creating a consistent and direct method for districts to report their actual spending, by type of funding at the school and district level.


Parents, local communities and others should not have to hire research teams and data analysts to get the information they need to understand how school funds are being used.


Waiting any longer to fix this transparency problem will be to the detriment of our students and will stifle the very districts we expect to be innovating and transforming communities by depriving them of sufficient information and direction from the state.


To be clear, districts face an enormous amount of often-competing pressures, ones that will only continue in the wake of pension reforms and economic changes. Ensuring LCFF works, given these pressures, will take a great deal of work — but it is work our students and our state deserve.


California took bold action once before in the name of equity, fairness, and the pursuit of closing achievement gaps when it shifted to LCFF, and policymakers must now approve AB 1321 for the same reasons.


Ted Lempert is president of Children Now and Ryan J. Smith is executive director of The Education Trust–West.

Categories: LCAP, LCFF

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