AT SOME POINT IT'S GOING TO BLOW
Continuing my blog related to resource optimization in PK-12 education, I want to discuss a few points some readers have brought to my attention related to my July 19 Money Matters blog. Yes! I agree, I could have been clearer that school leaders succeed despite district-level budget processes characterized by a low degree of engagement with school and teacher leaders. In fact, little if any deliberation involving the school board, superintendent, Cabinet members and the sites they serve exists in many districts. The incredible waste associated with ineffective resource allocation related to time, money, staff, and programs is emblematic of an institution plagued with man-made barriers and ineffective systems. In general, resources are not always strategically aligned to support the district’s vision (if there is one) to improve classroom instruction and subsequently student achievement.
Great schools in not-so-great districts (and/or in not-so-great states) succeed despite systematic and cultural barriers. In the most successful of examples, leadership teams led by a principal leader, usually the principal but not always, work collaboratively to identify their most pressing needs and subsequently align all available people, time and money to strategically address them. These bold and courageous leaders are relentlessly persistent and find ways to turn everyday resources into powerful tools to achieve student success. A trait these everyday heroes also possess is patience - they rarely sacrifice capacity for short term gains. Instead, they build in their school transformative powers through individual and collective motivation – not only among staff but among students too.
Now, back to the money matters argument. California’s local control funding formula (LCFF) sets basic funding levels and cost adjustments to provide additional funding for limited English proficient children, low-income and foster youth, and a high concentration of ELL/Low-Income students. However, the distribution plan does not always stream down to the targeted students’ schools or to the students themselves. At this point in time, five years into the LCFF, it’s fair to say that while the LCFF has at the least symbolically addressed district equity, it has created within-district inequity in its wake. As reported by Marsh and Koppich (2018) in a Local Control Funding Formula Research Collaborative (LCFFRC) case study, district leaders support the underlying principles of the equity formula (these leaders really believe money matters most). In the same breath however, these same district leaders believe base funds are inadequate and subsequently clamor for more flexibility with those supplemental and concentration grant dollars. As a result of this unintended consequence, all LCFF supplemental and concentration grant dollars do not always follow the students responsible for the increased revenue.
We all would like more money. We all would like all children to be provided the same level of education regardless of their zip code. But it’s not about the money. It’s about the quality of the district, the quality of the community, and the ability of all stakeholders to come together to support its students and create opportunities through after school programs, jobs and mentorships, libraries and parks, sports, arts, and other forms of enrichment. Enrichment is what resides in the achievement and opportunity gap. The arts in particular connect students to curriculum in all areas. Integrated visual and performing arts education blend the creativity and discipline of the arts with learning science. Nothing supports student achievement in reading, writing and mathematics like the arts. Supplemental and concentration grants help bring enrichment to children who otherwise would not have the same level of exposure to the arts. But the arts are still seen as a supplement to academics and LCFF funding is not nearly enough to support academics and provide deep levels of enrichment.
With gap funding now at 100% and the economic expansion likely to run out of gas soon, there will never be a more critical time to become responsible stewards of the public's trust pertaining to responsible fiscal practices. We cannot continue to throw money at the problem that is the result of social injustice. We have a two-tiered education system. More money gives leaders false hope. There are no simple solutions to complex problems. And throwing money at the problem is simple. It's important to also view the LCFF through the lens of a deficit-based framework to ensure we keep social justice in the forefront of our minds as we reinvent our school systems.
Five years into the LCFF, the equity equalizer has proven to be an ineffective diet to reduce the weight of poverty. In many districts, few if any policies and practices have changed relative to the school system and school board/superintendent practices since LCFF was signed into law starting in 2013-14. But it has, in the case of the most successful districts, led to an examination of existing policies and practices, slowed the movement towards simple solutions and quick fixes such as altering structure, procedures and other formal attributes of the system, and forced school boards to examine what they are doing and work directly with all stakeholders to change the culture of their school systems.
It's a cautionary tale. Change or be changed. Do nothing and it's going to blow at some point.