Local school districts have endured years of cuts, and the ever-shrinking pot of state money came with lots of strings attached.

That is changing in a big way with the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), a new method for divvying up education funds that’s being phased in over the next eight years.

With LCFF, the state has changed the way it directs dollars toward public education. Instead of funding based on specific programs called “categoricals,” money will now be allocated based on a district’s demographics. The aim is to make funding more flexible and equitable.

LCFF brings a “unique opportunity to fund schools based on needs and challenges,” said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, who represents the 79th District, which includes parts of San Diego, Chula Vista, La Mesa, Lemon Grove and National City. “My apprehension lies with the fact that I served on the school board for eight years and I understand the politics of what happens with the funding.”

The gist: The state will give districts more money to pay for needier students who cost more to educate. Supplemental grants will go to English-language learners, foster youth and low-income students. San Diego Unified, which has a large number of students in those categories, will therefore get extra funds.

Thanks to Proposition 30, $42 billion worth of local property tax and state revenue has been directed to LCFF for the current school year.

When the new funding formula is fully implemented, per-pupil funds in San Diego schools will go from $6,796 to an estimated $11,039, based on average daily attendance, (ADA). The funding varies by grade level, with more funds for higher grades.

Here’s San Diego’s estimated base grant:

Grades K-3: $7,675

Grades 4-6: $7,056

Grades 7-8: $,7,266

Grades 9-12: $8,638

On top of that funding, an extra 20 percent supplemental grant will be given for each student who qualifies as an English-language learner, a low-income student or a foster child. Students will only be counted once, even if they qualify in more than one category. There’s another layer of funding, too: A concentration grant worth 50 percent of the base rate will be added for districts with a high concentration (at least 55 percent of the enrollment) of needy students.

San Diego Unified stands to benefit from the new funding scheme, because more money will flow to districts with needier students, like San Diego, where 65 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, 28 percent are English-language learners and there are 1,301 foster students.

Here’s what those supplemental and concentration grants are expected to look like for San Diego:

Supplemental grants:

Grades K-3: $1,033

Grades 4-6: $950

Grades 7-8: $978

Grades 9-12: $1,163

Concentration grants:

Grades K-3: $472

Grades 4-6: $434

Grades 7-8: $447

Grades 9-12: $531


New funds per student at San Diego schools

Education experts say the new funding scheme is a fairer way to divide the dollars going to public education in California. Districts like it because it gives them more freedom to decide how best to spend the state money they get for the unique needs of their students and communities.

But there’s confusion too, because not all of the state’s rules on how to spend the money are in place.

And some San Diego parents still worry the money may be swallowed up by teacher and staff pay raises. Rules about how LCFF money can be spent on salaries won’t come from the state until January. It is expected that only the base rate, not the supplemental or concentration grants, could be used toward teacher pay increases.

Others are concerned about losing specific funding for programs they value, and wonder whether the district will spread the wealth across all students or allocate it in the way it was originally intended – more money for the most needy.

Valentina Hernandez, a parent who chairs San Diego Unified’s English-language learner advisory group, known as DELAC, said she’s worried the money intended for those students won’t reach them.

“Not all schools are going to protect those who it was intended to protect,” she said. “We don’t trust the system.”

She worries that if principals are given the leeway to use the extra money, they might not direct it toward English-language learners.

“It’s too easy to say, ‘Oh, I’m going to get a counselor’ – that is not who it was intended for,” Hernandez said.

Even those who helped draft the legislation worry about how it will be implemented.

“My greatest fear at this point is that that there have not been enough restrictions placed on the money,” said Weber.

Advocates for programs like GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) worry because the categorical program-based funding is going away. The district will no longer be required to fund GATE programs. (Disclosure: I’m involved as a parent representative on San Diego Unified’s GATE District Advisory Council.)

Many other programs that received categorical funding could lose out as well.

“We want the district to be super transparent about where the money is going,” said Lisa Berlanga, executive director of San Diego United Parents for Education. “What are the different pots and where is the money going? The money is not intended to just continue the status quo, it’s supposed to be doing something different to close the achievement gap,” she said.

San Diego school district administrators said they plan to spend a lot of time listening in the coming weeks and months.

“We want to provide multiple opportunities for feedback from the community to help us identify priorities,” said Moises Aguirre, executive director of district relations for San Diego Unified. Aguirre said the district will announce its community engagement plans regarding LCFF at Tuesday’s board meeting. District administrators will attend meetings to discuss LCFF on October 14 meet with the communities of Madison, Lincoln and San Diego high school clusters on LCFF on Oct. 14 and with the Scripps Ranch Cluster on. Oct. 16.

Weber has been working on the accountability portion of LCFF in Sacramento. She said there needs to be oversight by parents and community members to make sure the dollars go where they were intended. The new funding formula is not supposed to be “an ‘everybody gets the same money’ concept. It’s really designed to close the achievement gap,” she said.

Concurrently with the new funding formula, California is introducing a new assessment that is aligned with national curriculum standards, called Common Core. The Common Core curriculum will allow comparisons and accountability, but it is still being rolled out.

The district has been talking up its Vision 2020 plan to ensure that every neighborhood has a quality school. So, does LCFF mean that money will be taken from high-performing schools and shifted to those that need improvement?

It’s a possibility, but Aguirre didn’t respond to the question directly.

“San Diego Unified will engage in an inclusive approach that will include our Board of Education, the superintendent and community stakeholder input before making spending decisions,” he said.

One of the issues still being worked out is a requirement to maintain class sizes for kindergarten through third grade at a maximum of 24 students per teacher. The class size is tied to the funding for those grade levels.

Because districts won’t know all of the state requirements on spending the LCFF money until January, they could end up being required to pay it back if they spend it inappropriately.

San Diego teachers union president Bill Freeman warned that if the district doesn’t maintain class sizes at an average of 24-to-1 per site, an estimated $20 million penalty could be due. “This is not fighting with the district, we’re concerned that we can’t afford to lose $20 million,” Freeman said. “We’re just coming out of this financial hole that we’ve been in and we just can’t afford to lose that amount of money.”

After state regulations on accountability come out next March, the County Offices of Education will be tasked with reviewing each school district’s accountability plan, said Music Watson, spokesperson for the San Diego County Office of Education.

With changes in curriculum, testing and funding, there are lots of unknowns right now in public education.

Amy Redding, a parent who chairs the District Advisory Council for Compensatory Education, which advises the district on matters related to students with socioeconomic challenges, said she wants to make sure the new LCFF funds go to the kids who brought the money to the district.

“We want to make sure we can measure the student outcomes based on the programs that we decide to do to increase student achievement,” Redding said. “We want to makes sure that LCFF is implemented with fidelity according to the spirit of the law, knowing that this money that’s coming in supplemental and concentration grants is going to the students that struggle and have more needs than some other students. Also, with the base grant, the district is still obligated to make sure the needs of all students are being served as well.”

Christie Ritter

Christie Ritter is a freelance writer for Voice of San Diego, author of four books and a former newspaper reporter. She is a graduate of Clairemont High,...

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