THE LCAP: REVISITING THE MONEY MATTERS QUESTION SIX YEARS AFTER LCFF ADOPTION
Updated: Jun 5
This is Part I of a series of blogs on resource allocation in the LCFF era.
Mitigating the harmful effects of poverty and other disadvantages has long been the promise of the public-school system in America. The promise has been compromised by school funding formulas whose DNA breeds inequality, instead of the productive use of resources to ensure a measure of equity. Looking through an "edunomics" lens, while weighted student funding formulas like the LCFF in California are advancing equity by funding underserved students at higher levels, whether or not they're advancing the productive use of these resources remains a question that has yet to be conclusively answered. Therein lies the money debate revolving around education: Does Money Matter?
The President of the California State Board of Education (SBE), eminent researcher and scholar Linda Darling-Hammond, not only believes money matters, she has long argued that our education funding system derails the American dream. In a 2019 article, Why Our Education Funding Systems Are Derailing the American Dream, she and co-author Jeff Raikes wrote that providing every child with a quality education is not just a moral imperative, it's a pragmatic necessity if we are to thrive as a country.
Concentrated in states with the lowest capacities to finance public education (not California), inequitable systems of school finance harm minority and economically disadvantaged students disproportionately. Twenty years ago, Darling-Hammond argued that educational outcomes for minority children are much more a function of their unequal access to key educational resources, including skilled teachers and quality curriculum, than they are a function of race. She called the U.S. educational system one of the most unequal in the industrialized world, with students routinely receiving dramatically different learning opportunities based on their social status. I’m delighted that twenty years later as the President of the SBE she is in more of a position to do something about it as California strives to perfect a winning formula.
The debate can be traced back to at least 1905, when the father of school finance, Ellwood Cubberly, suggested that education can spend its way out of education problems when he declared that, “the question of sufficient revenue lies back of almost every other [education] problem.”
After all, reform efforts require significant investments. Implementing Professional Learning Communities, for example, cost multiple millions of dollars in materials, professional development, and in some cases agreements with bargaining units to accommodate needed structural changes that may have long term implications that might outlive PLCs. In 2009, the author of The Money Myth: School Resources, Outcomes, and Equity, W. Norton Grubb argued that while money is useful, a school’s most important resources cannot be bought. Grubb is right. Nothing can be bought. And if it can be, at what cost?
In Transforming Teaching and Schools through Resource Optimization, my students and I explore the money matters question through a variety of lenses, including the three branches of government. Historically, equity has been advanced through the courts. Title I grants are an example of policy shifts initiated by the Executive Branch, in this case, Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” which spawned the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965.
Twelve years after Brown v. Board of Education, the 1966 Equality of Educational Opportunity Report, referred to as the Coleman Report in reference to social scientist James Coleman (read my blog on the report), studied inequality through the lens of social science. Coleman reported that the socioeconomic status of a child's family and peers are better predictors of academic success than actual schooling. Among the largest and most comprehensive sociological studies of its kind, the 800-page report was the result of 660,000 interviews at 4,000 schools across the country over a two-year period.
We now find ourselves, 50 years after Coleman, in virtually the same place we’ve been relative to social inequality (largely a result of income inequality related to educational opportunities), despite being fully aware of it. We’ve thrown billions upon billions of dollars at the problem with little to show for it.
Money well spent in the LCFF era will be invested strategically, with a focus on early childhood programs that provide intensive, high-quality early learning experiences. Multiple years of designed programming, delivered by well-trained teachers to small numbers of early learners has proven to impact the trajectories of young children’s lives in positive ways. To ensure the investment in early childhood education (and beyond) pays off, a comprehensive professional learning infrastructure that supports professional learning and builds a strong, stable, and diverse teacher and leader workforce must be developed. That infrastructure should revolve around a highly refined accountability system.
Finally, addressing inequities through effective resource allocation requires a significant investment in a continuous school improvement framework that guides decision-makers through a cyclical process of analyzing student achievement, school process, demographic, and perception data, and annually modifying plans (LCAP) accordingly. Of particular importance is perception data, which informs educators, improves transparency, and ultimately strengthens parent and stakeholder involvement. Much like any investment though, unexpected market volatility (especially economic downturns) could be disastrous. Invest wisely and protect your investments.