Funding, resources, and effective teachers have been inequitably distributed across American schools for decades — contributing to vast opportunity and achievement gaps between high-need students and their more privileged peers.
The passage of California’s LCFF in 2013, is one of the most promising education funding reforms in recent history, with the potential to effectively address opportunity and achievement gaps for high-need students, including low-income students, English Learners, and foster youth. Since its initial passage, Californians still believe in directing more resources to high-needs students. A voter poll conducted by Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), and surveys conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), show that an overwhelming 70% of Californians believe in providing additional funding to school districts with more high-need students; and 71% support local control.
LCFF’s equity potential can only be fulfilled, however, if it is successfully implemented. So far, districts have had two years of experience developing Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs) with stakeholders and allocating resources with greater budget flexibility. During that time, the state and community groups have begun to see the preliminary impact of the new system on highneed students, and researchers and advocates have been observing and noting key implementation challenges.
For instance, several studies have found cases in which districts have either underspent funds that had been intended for high-need students, or spent these funds without explaining how the planned programs would increase or improve services for those students. Others have documented piecemeal “best practices” of how to meaningfully engage communities in decision-making, or to evaluate efforts to ensure that resource allocations positively impact student learning. Research has also pointed to the importance of deep and meaningful stakeholder engagement in identifying student needs and distributing funds effectively – but these conversations have, so far, just begun to scratch the surface. More comprehensive and continuous engagement would involve: explicit use of an equity framework, monitoring to ensure that low-income and highneed communities are involved throughout the decision-making process, and consistent review of evidence-based programs and services to ensure positive impact.