Reformers Get Help In Fight Over School Funding Law

Chris Reed
San Diego Union Tribune editorial writer and former host of KOGO Radio’s “Top Story” weeknight news talk show

Education reformers and advocates for poor communities have a new tool in the fight over implementation of a 2013 law that was supposed to provide extra help to millions of struggling California students.

The Local Control Funding Formula — championed by Gov. Jerry Brown as “truly revolutionary” at its signing ceremony — was supposed to give additional funding to districts to directly help each student they had who was an English learner, a foster child or from an impoverished household. But the Legislative Analyst’s Office warned in January that none of the 50 state school districts it surveyed, starting with Los Angeles Unified, had adequate safeguards in place. Many districts are using the extra dollars for general operations or to pay for raises for teachers.

Now the state Department of Education has issued guidelines in response to an inquiry from Fresno Unified about whether LCFF dollars can go to teacher raises. In an April 14 memo that received no attention until it was obtained by the EdSource website last week, Jeff Breshears, administrator for the Department of Education’s Local Agency Systems Support Office, wrote:

You have asked under what circumstances is it permissible to use “supplemental and concentration funds” to fund a percentage salary increase on a district salary schedule for all teachers in a district. As you describe this salary increase, it appears to be a straightforward across the board salary increase without any condition for additional or enhanced level of service. In such case, a district is essentially “paying more” for the same level of service. As a general proposition, such an increase will not “increase” or “improve” services for unduplicated pupils, and the use of supplemental and concentration funds in this manner would not be appropriate.

CTA says there are few restrictions on funds

This sets the stage for battles in school boards, the courts and the Legislature. The Department of Education’s position that LCFF dollars must be used in a targeted way appears to contradict the actions of dozens of school districts, according to the LAO and published reports from around the state. Those district actions have already drawn concern from the caucus of African American lawmakers in Sacramento. At a January hearing of the state Board of Education, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, testified on behalf of the caucus over fears the reform was not being implemented properly.

Weber has already clashed with the California Teachers Association and its allies over teacher tenure. An LCFF fight looks to be next. EdSource reports that the union thinks there are few restrictions on how the extra dollars can be spent:

The California Teachers Association interprets the law differently. The Local Control Funding Formula was created to give maximum flexibility to school districts, and that includes creating competitive salaries to reduce teacher turnover, said Claudia Briggs, communications assistant manager for the CTA.

 

“We believe the law is clear: The money can be used to attract and retain quality teachers in the classroom, to lower class sizes and to restore programs that were cut,” said Briggs.

That is not how the governor described the LCFF when lobbying for its passage in spring 2013. In the press release from his office after he signed the law, Brown declared it would “direct increased resources to the state’s neediest students” — not to general operating funds.

However, Brown has said little about the controversy over the law’s implementation. Nor has Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction.

Cross-posted at CalWatchDog.

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