The Art of Implementation: California’s LCAPs Fall Short for ELs

Blog Post
May 29, 2015
In July 2013, California enacted a transformative reform to their K-12 education funding system - the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). It came with promises of greater equity and transparency and shifted much of the decision-making for how state funds are spent to local school districts (and local charter school leadership). For the prior 40 years, school districts in California received state funds that were specifically designated to support particular programs. Each funding stream had distinct rules and reporting requirements. The LCFF consolidated  these into a single per-pupil allocation and created new statewide accountability provisions.

School districts now receive a base level per-pupil allocation ($7,643 on average) and supplemental funds beyond that level for English Learner (EL), low income and foster youth students. The amount of supplemental funds awarded varies based on how many disadvantaged students are enrolled in the district. That is, the per-pupil supplemental funds increase once the district meets a certain enrollment threshold. For example, districts where 55 percent or more of students are disadvantaged receive a higher amount of supplemental funding than districts with lower proportions of those students.

Additionally, districts must complete 3-year Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs) that detail how the funds will be used to support student outcomes and overall performance along with related goals and actions. LCAPs are first approved by local school boards and then sent to the local County Office of Education (COE) for review and final approval. COE’s can ask for clarifications and make suggestions for changes, but districts are not required to adopt these changes.

Embedded within the LCFF is a promise that school districts would leverage their supplemental funds to improve current practices or implement new, research-based practices to better support the education (and academic outcomes) of the state’s 1.4 million ELs. That’s according to a recent report by Californians Together and the Center for Equity for English Learners on the first year of the LCAP system, “In the best of worlds, the LCAP would represent local entities taking ownership and responsibility for English Learner education, targeting public funds to meet the needs of English Learners drawing upon research on best-practices, and closing what has been a far-too-persistent opportunity and achievement gap.” But as the report revealed, many districts are coming up short in realizing this promise.

Californians Together brought together a group of 26 educators, EL advocates and legal assistance staff to review the LCAPs of 25 California school districts. Reviewers were armed with the English Learner Research-Aligned LCAP Rubrics (developed by Californians Together based on this report) that specify 10 focus areas with “high impact” for ELs. For example, parental involvement and programs designated specifically to improve EL outcomes are highlighted as particularly powerful focus areas.

So what did they find? First, the majority of districts did not specify the actual amount of funding devoted to EL services and programs. Nor did most districts provide details on the services and actions they were using to address EL students’ needs.

That’s not all. The report found that districts are paying little attention to  implementation of the state’s new English Language Development standards. It also found little evidence that parents of ELs were involved in the development of LCAPs. This is a central failure of the new model’s promise, since the state mandates that LCAPs be developed with the input of parents and the public, including a District-level English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC). Many of the LCAPs lacked information on which (if any) DELAC recommendations were incorporated into the plan.

Finally, the majority of LCAPS reviewed did not include “specific and disaggregated benchmarks monitoring English Learners for academic growth or academic achievement.” Which is to say that school districts are not setting targets or expectations for EL’s academic achievement that would allow them to track progress over time and develop targeted programs and services.

Sadly, the report’s findings add to growing evidence that the LCFF has not yet led to better supports and programs for ELs. A January 2015 review of  50 district’s LCAPs by the state’s Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) highlighted similar shortcomings. These LCAPs often group EL students with all students and the “districts’ justifications of districtwide and schoolwide services consist only of recapping the actions they will pursue on behalf of all students and indicating those actions also will benefit [EL] students.”

The LAO also noted the difficulty of ascertaining whether and how districts are improving services for ELs and a general lack of specificity on how increased funds are linked to increased EL services. The latter may be predictable, since the regulations do not mandate a specific level of spending on ELs. What’s more, according to Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, Executive Director of Californians Together, there is “no legislative language to spend those [supplemental] funds on those students.”

These initial evaluations of the LCAP system could provide supporters and critics alike with a rallying cry. But it’s not clear that anyone is listening. The state is currently working with WestEd to develop LCAP evaluation rubrics that will be used by school districts, COEs and the state Superintendent for Public Instruction to assess strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement. But according to Spiegel-Coleman, “The current suggested metrics will be limited in the ability to measure growth for ELs.”

Local control isn’t a bad thing, but neither is it a panacea for supporting underserved students.  It’s not enough to push more funds into the hands of school districts — money alone will do little to increase equity if it’s not spent on appropriate, adequate services to support the students who need it. Districts have varying capacity to develop and deliver improved programs and services for ELs. That means that the state has a role to play in building capacity and ensuring that the LCFF translates into improved educational equity. As the report notes, the state “cannot rely upon locally determined goals and measures as a mechanism to ensure that the rights of English learners to equal educational opportunity are being ensured.”

This post is part of New America’s Dual Language Learner National Work Group. Click here for more information on this team’s work. To subscribe to the biweekly newsletter, click here, enter your contact information, and select “Education Policy.”