In summary

Without transparency, we cannot evaluate whether the Local Control Funding Formula is working for our most vulnerable students.

By Sarah Novicoff, Special to CalMatters

Sarah Novicoff teaches 6th grade World History at Alliance Kory Hunter Middle School in Los Angeles, She is a 2020-21 Teach Plus California Policy Fellow. 

One of my 6th graders struggled with everything. Her notebook pages were often blank and, when she did write, it was incoherent. The 12-year-old was reading at a pre-kindergarten level. Then mid-year, she began working with our school’s new full-time school psychologist. The results were immediate.

Diagnosed with a learning disability, my student began using the accommodations to which she was newly entitled. This and the regular sessions with the psychologist changed her academic path. She passed my world history class and many others that year.

I teach at a middle school in South Los Angeles that is 99.7% nonwhite and the median annual household income is less than $40,000. My school needs more money to support the diverse needs of our students. And when we get that money, it makes a difference. Low-income English language learners diagnosed with a learning disability are exactly the kind of student that California’s Local Control Funding Formula was passed to help. But we don’t know what portion of that money ever reaches the door of my classroom.

Los Angeles Unified received approximately $5.1 billion in Local Control Funding Formula money in the 2019-20 school year. More than a billion dollars of that was specifically allocated by the state to help educate low-income students like mine. 

Los Angeles Unified publishes a plan at the beginning of each year about how they will support those students with that money. Here’s the thing though: at the end of the year, Los Angeles Unified is not required to specifically report which schools received money, how much they received and what they did with it. Without that transparency, we cannot evaluate whether the Local Control Funding Formula is working. We know Los Angeles Unified School District is not alone. The California State Auditor made that clear in her report last year.

Imagine what we could do with those billions of dollars if it went where it was supposed to go. Just last year, my school invested in a book club for gifted students. With less than $1,000, the book club was able to improve reading abilities for students often ignored by a system taught to prioritize the middle of the pack. Just think what more book clubs – designed around different types of books and targeted at different reading levels, staffed by teachers who were compensated for their extra time designing curriculum – could do for our students.

When California passed the Local Control Funding Formula seven years ago, state leaders made a commitment to address educational inequity and invest in interventions like this. Last year, the state Senate and the Assembly passed AB 1835 that would require school districts to report how they distributed their LCFF funds and to use unspent funds on low-income students, English Language Learners and students in foster care. 

Despite the Senate and the Assembly passing the legislation, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the bill because of his concerns that “it cannot be implemented in a manner that is smooth or timely.” He instead vowed to find another way “to ensure that funding meant to support our state’s most vulnerable students is used for that purpose” in his newest state budget. I hope the governor will fulfill his promise. Our system must also be more transparent. More money only helps if it goes where it needs to.

As the governor works on his budget for January release, I encourage him to think about my students. When my school got a little bit of money, we spent it on a full-time school psychologist whose diagnosis changed my student’s educational trajectory. She is now on track to graduate middle school, is passing all her classes and has maintained her ever-cheery attitude. That is a huge win. If her growth is what can be achieved with a small sum of money, imagine what we could do with more.

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