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  • Writer's pictureAllan J. Mucerino


Updated: Nov 1, 2023

Studying problems of practice through the lens of social justice, as we do in the Education Leadership program at California State University, Fullerton, invariably leads to the question, “Does Money Matter.” In The California Way: The Golden State’s Quest to Build an Equitable and Excellent Education System, Roberta C. Furger, Laura E. Hernández, and Linda Darling-Hammond answer that question in the context of the LCFF. The February, 2019 study published by the Learning Policy Institute reported the authors' findings after studying the first five years of California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). The Learning Policy Institute conducts and communicates independent, high-quality research to improve education policy and practice.

Linda Darling-Hammond is President and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute. She has spent a career advocating for equity through a focus on meaningful learning, educator quality, and adequate resources.

It’s no surprise then that she and her co-authors were encouraged that the LCFF has led to an increase in districts’ investment in professional development around new standards and instructional strategies for the target groups. After all, the evidence remains conclusive that teacher quality is the most important factor in student achievement, and it’s even more important to LCFF-targeted populations. Darling-Hammond and other advocates for Just, Equitable, and Inclusive Education (JEIE) are painfully aware that what was true over fifty years ago when Social Scientist James S. Coleman’s groundbreaking report “Equality of Educational Opportunity” (read my blog on the 50th anniversary of the report) exposed the lack of equity in education tens years after Brown v. BoE introduced racial desegregation in the governmental agenda, remains true today.

Social science research has only marginally shaped education research, practice, and policy, despite everyone agreeing that the effect of good teachers is greatest upon the children who suffer the most educational disadvantages. It’s encouraging that the equity model that LCFF was intended to be is coming to fruition. The authors do caution us that there is still a long way to go. I agree and recognize that the culture of compliance, and not continuous improvement, remains the dominant culture in education institutions.

The juxtaposition of two incompatibles: California’s Dashboard (read a recent blog I’ve written about it) and its drive for equity, illuminate the fact that while policymakers and the people they represent are more empathetic than ever, we still are not intellectually or socially mature enough to scrap the compliance model altogether and focus all of our energy and time on continuous improvement.

Our system is better under LCFF. It’s a positive step towards equity funding for school districts like mine that serve a high percentage (82%) of students in the target population. While adequacy funding remains elusive in the state (and most of the US), realizing California’s promise to reverse the trajectory of our most vulnerable and underserved children is a big step in the right direction.

Another positive change in the LCFF era according to the researchers is an increased investment in addressing students’ holistic needs. Supportive learning environments have proven to serve students well. Emotional and mental health support has mercifully (due to a history of inadequate empathy in my opinion) been recognized as a key component to cognitive processing and overall well-being. While we as a society have made some strides in embracing total well-being as a means to personal success, a greater focus on emotional and mental health has been slow to come. Most districts in the LCFF era have invested heavily in emotional and mental health support providers, including MFTs, counselors, social workers, and psychologists. Academic counselors still dominate at the high school level, but there has been an increase of mental and emotional health professionals in high schools too.

In the education setting, the terms mental health and emotional health are often confused and used interchangeably. Until the LCFF provided the catalyst (as well as a mechanism) for schools to include mental and emotional health professionals among their teams, only in special settings (Special Education for example) did they exist. While mental health involves cognitive thinking and the ability to process, store, and understand new information, emotional health is the ability to function psychologically and express one’s emotions appropriately for one’s age.

The LCFF era has greatly enhanced the investment in emotional health and is evident in schools and districts that include asset-building, positive behavior and support, mindfulness, and developing coping skills to support good mental health among their school processes. The challenge remains to institutionalize these practices by building a structure to support them.

While the authors reported an increase in stakeholder engagement, this area continues to confound educators. Despite groundbreaking engagement requirements embedded in the LCFF, realizing the law’s vision for local control remains its greatest challenge. Language and other barriers have consistently stymied efforts to engage families beyond perfunctory levels. In the district I lead, we have partnered with the ThoughtExchange and have quadrupled our level of participation. By leveraging technology, we have leveled the playing field by providing a positive 2-way communications platform to engage our students, staff, and parents.

The equity intent of the LCFF law is clear despite the law not including a definition of equity. While equality and equity are often used to convey the same message, even among some educators, they are closer to being opposites than the same. The Learning Policy Institute study reported above, as well as the Local Control Funding Formula Research Collaborative report, published two years prior, view the LCFF as a mechanism to distribute more resources to students with the greatest needs.

As districts shift from the fragmented compliance-driven planning models of old (read my blog on the LCAP as a compliance document) to a strategic and coherent planning and budgeting model, the LCFF will further take root and continue to force systemic change in an institutional system that has largely been immutable to it.


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