Advocates: More transparency, accountability needed for new education funds

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Education advocates are criticizing Governor Jerry Brown’s recent revised budget proposal as a lost an opportunity to make sure tax-funded education increases are getting to the kids who need it the most.

“I am disappointed that the governor is not going to require fiscal accountability on his watch,” said Liz Guillen Director of legislative, community affairs for Public Advocates.

“He requires it in the language of [Local Control Funding Formula] but in the implementation he is not being strong enough, he’s not being true to it,” she said.

LCFF is the three year-old overhaul to public school funding that removed strict limits on education funding in exchange for transparency and accountability on how those funds were to be used. The new funding model promised tax-funded increases for school districts with students in poverty, foster care, and struggling to learn English.

The centerpiece of that accountability is the Local Control Accountability Plan, a document in which California school districts detail how they’re using state funding to make sure academic lessons are rigorous, parents are engaged, and the school climate is conducive to learning.

In April, Public Advocates released a report suggesting that many school districts aren’t detailing in their LCAP reports how they’re using supplemental funding at school sites, and how the funding is being used to meet the LCFF goals.

The LCAP reports don’t show the complete picture of how school districts are using supplemental funds, the Public Advocates report said, because school districts are detailing only portions of their budget spending.

For example, the report said Long Beach Unified included 86 percent of their general fund expenditures in their report.

But Long Beach officials disputed the advocates' characterization of their accounting. 

“The LCAP does not include restricted funding such as Title I, Title II, after-school programs, special education, etc. because that funding is, by definition, restricted to other uses,"  Long Beach Unified spokesman Chris Efthychiou said in an email. "We believe we are very close to 100 percent of unrestricted expenditures in our LCAP."

Long Beach was one of 10 school districts scrutinized by Public Advocates. Some of the school districts, the report found, showed less than 10 percent of the school district’s general fund spending in the report.

“The transparency that LCFF was supposed to deliver was that the public, parents, and students, and policymakers would know how districts are spending those funds and how they’re using those funds in proportion to the increase that the students generated,” and that can only be done when a school district lists all general fund spending in the LCAP Guillen said.

Those school districts had high proportions of kids targeted for supplemental funding.

On Thursday, Public Advocates released a report that found that a sample of school districts with lower proportions of at risk students are also failing to include in the LCAP key fiscal information about how they’re using supplemental funds.

Governor Jerry Brown’s office referred questions about lack of transparency and criticism to the California Department of Education.

The department said the template school districts are required to follow to create an LCAP should be changed.

“The current template does not provide sufficient transparency around how those additional dollars that are generated by the high-need student groups, how district are investing those,” said State Board of Education deputy policy director David Sapp.

That process is speeding up in July, Sapp said, that’s when the State Board of Education will discuss in a public meeting changes to the LCAP template.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said Sapp works for the California Department of Education, and that LCFF is a six-year old law. KPCC regrets the error.