The transparency debate

california cities fiscal health elaine howle
Recommendations by California State Auditor Elaine Howle would make it easier to track money distributed to schools. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

There’s another issue with the school funding formula: Following the money is hard. A 2019 state audit found it was nearly impossible to determine whether school districts are spending their supplemental and concentration dollars on services for the disadvantaged students for whom they’re intended. It reignited calls for transparency.

Supporters of stronger oversight say it’s necessary if the state is to effectively close achievement gaps. The audit also noted a loophole: Funding targeted for students in need loses its designation if it goes unspent in the year for which it’s earmarked, so that special needs money can actually be used for district-wide expenses if it rolls over into the following school year.  

Lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to enhance transparency and close these loopholes in 2020. The State Board of Education, however, has made changes intended to make school accountability documents easier to read for parents, and the state Department of Education is studying transparency.