California schools’ ‘achievement gap’ continues to plague

Then-Gov. Jerry Brown and the legislature reshuffled the funding of California public schools in 2013 with the stated goal of closing the “achievement gap” between poor, English-speaking students and more privileged children.

The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) gave local school officials much more leeway by eliminating most “categorical grants” that required funds to be spent for specific purposes. Rather to the contrary, the LCFF also gave school districts specific grants to spend on improving the education of children on the wrong side of the gap.

Since its adoption, the state has also significantly increased the amount of school spending. The state budget for 2021-2022 sets state and local school funding at $ 123.9 billion, almost double what it was in 2013, and spending per student at 21,555 $, “The highest levels ever achieved”. California schools are also receiving $ 13.6 billion from the federal government to cushion the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the broadest sense, the LCFF has embraced the misconception that changing the flow of money will profoundly affect educational outcomes. However, since its inception, the LCFF has been inundated with controversy – not over its concept, but rather over its implementation.

Brown insisted that local school officials could be trusted to spend the money wisely for its intended purpose with very light state control – almost non-existent. Rather, it was assumed that local voters and parents would oversee the LCFF through local implementation plans.

However, critics – from civil rights and school reform groups – have complained that the implementation plans are indecipherable and that school districts often embezzle money meant to improve the outcomes of at-risk children to d ‘other purposes. A huge loophole allowed CFLF money unspent in one fiscal year to be carried over to the next year and spent unconditionally.

Battles over how money was spent, or not, were fought district by district, sometimes in court. Two years ago, state auditor Elaine Howle brought in a report that strongly criticized the lack of oversight.

“We are particularly concerned that the state does not explicitly require districts to spend their additional and concentration funds on the intended student groups or to track their spending from those funds,” said Howle’s report.

The Legislature closed the ridiculous loophole on unspent funds this year, but after eight years we should have a sense of whether the CFL, bolstered by billions of additional dollars, has provided meaningful help to children in need. need it most or has just been a creative bookkeeping exercise.

The latest attempt to assess its effectiveness comes from Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), a prestigious consortium of education scholars from five major universities.

“As researchers who have long studied the implementation of the LCFF, we started out from the point of view …” But despite these advances, California continues to lag the nation as a whole in terms of academic performance, and many groups of students – particularly black and Latin students, English learners, students from low-income families, and students with disabilities – continue to experience significant and troubling gaps in education. matter of opportunities and achievements.

Among other problems, PACE laments that schools with the highest concentrations of at-risk children also tend to have the least experienced and least competent teachers, although it does not mention that union seniority rules are the most important. main cause of this dissonance.

The unfortunate result is that we still don’t know whether LCFF will succeed or join California’s long list of high-profile notions, such as the woebegone bullet train, that fail to deliver what was promised.

Dan Walters is a CalMatters columnist.

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