Parents, Students Welcome California’s New School Finance Regs

January 24, 2014

By Nicole Hudley
New America Media

On Thursday (Jan 16), high school students from across California joined with parents and education leaders at the Capitol to push for more accountability in the state’s new school finance law, known as the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF).

After nearly seven hours of testimony, the State Board of Education approved a set of regulations that many say deliver just that.

“Nobody else knows their children better than parents,” said Olga Nuñez, director of the Fresno chapter of the statewide Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE), which trains over 30,000 parents per year on how to advocate for their students’ academic success.

She called the vote a “historic moment” for education in the state.

Nuñez attended the hearing with parents from rural areas of the Central Valley. “Yes, they work long hours, yes they work in the fields, a lot of our Central Valley parents do, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want the best for their kids’ education,” she said.

Thursday’s vote followed months of public criticism after the board released an initial set of regulations in October that many said created wide loopholes for districts to divert funds generated by LCFF away from high-need students. The new regulations require districts to engage communities in setting spending priorities, and to document how they plan to use the new funds to improve services for low-income, English Learner (EL) students and foster youth.

Nuñez touted the effectiveness of parent engagement in improving student achievment, citing studies that show more than 90 percent of the children of PIQE-educated parents graduate high school, and more than half of them go on to pursue higher education.

Along with parent advocates, other speakers at the hearing included Governor Jerry Brown, State Assembly-members Phil Ting and Shirley Weber, and longtime Central Valley social justice advocate, Dolores Huerta.

When asked what LCFF meant for Central Valley residents, Huerta said, “It means everything. We have the lowest API, we have the highest suspension/dropout/expulsion rate in the central valley … This gives us the opportunity to have input from parents and the students, [and] to direct that input to the school boards so we can rectify and remedy this situation.”

But while Huerta praised the LCFF for providing community-based organizations an opportunity to organize students and parents to lobby local school boards, she still had her concerns with the policy.

“I think we need to tighten up the flexible provisions [in the law], because when they talk about flexibility, it creates an out for some school districts that might want to use that money for other things,” said Huerta.

Too much flexibility for districts was also a concern for youth from the Oakland-based educational advocacy group, Youth Together. The group, wearing shirts that read, “don’t flex student achievement” and “close the loophole,” interrupted the hearing with a flash-mob style dance routine.

Laroy Junior, 16, says it’s critical the funds go where they are needed most. A student at Fremont High School in Oakland, he sees the disparities separating his school from neighboring Piedmont High School every day. Fremont still has no library, he notes, while the school’s football field is too small and in constant disrepair.

He says the inequalities leave him feeling like there’s “no hope.”

Junior said he would use new LCFF money to provide more training for mentors and teachers who have worked for years in low-income urban schools. He says training could help teachers who have become overburdened, disheartened, and feeling like they are without adequate support.

“For me it would give me hope,” he said of the new funding streams. “If I felt like they cared, I would care.”

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