California's method of distributing money to schools will soon move from one of the most restrictive in the nation to perhaps among the most flexible.
The Local Control Funding Formula, which will be enacted into law when Gov. Jerry Brown signs the budget, not only means more money for schools educating low income students and English learners. It will also mean a lot more community involvement will be asked for to ensure the money goes to the children it is intended to educate.
"It's essential that the local school board has input and engaged parents at local school sites," said Carol Kocivar, president of the California State PTA. "The school board will need to clearly explain to each school site how expenditures will improve education ... they should specify what a high-quality education will look like."
The premise could prove particularly challenging in communities that have historically suffered from lack of parental participation — meaning parents who don't speak English or work so many jobs that they have little time to attend meetings.
"One of the challenges we have, as the demographics change, is that we have more and more parents who have not had a history of being engaged in school, Kocivar said. "They don't understand how the system works."
Schools will begin to receive a "base grant" adjusted to different grade levels — around $7,643 per student. Districts will also receive a "supplemental grant," equal to 35 percent of the base grant, for each English language learner, low-income student and foster youth.
Because the money will not be coming to the schools with as many strings attached, it will also mean there will be more freedom in how it is spent.
But the money is supposed to benefit needy students, and to make sure these children benefit from the funds, a lot more "local control" will be in order.
"People are going to need to get active at the local level to make this work for local needs," said Michael Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education, during a telephone conference last week.
The community will be asked to participate in their local accountability plan, which will be a requirement starting the 2015-16 school year. Districts will not be able to approve a budget unless they approve one first, then they'll be held accountable for achieving results spelled out in them.
In the upcoming weeks, the California State Board of Education will be developing a precise system required to show where the money is going, at the district and school level, Kirst said.
How the results will be measured is also a moving target. California is transitionally its education system to the Common Core Standards, which will also require a new testing system and new accountability measures.
"We will not be telling districts how to educate kids at all," Kirst said. "We'll look at the outcomes of pupils, but this is a change of philosophy."
Ana Matosantos, director of the California Department of Finance, said the accountability structure that will be put in place should establish an overall principle of why extra funds are being distributed.
"The money will have to be spent on students and improve outcomes," she said during the telephone conference. "The law is clear (the funds) will have to be spent to provide supplemental services for students targeted."
Just as in the past, the superintendent of public instruction will retain power to supervise school districts to make sure they're complying with the law. In some ways, their authority is increased because they'll have the power to reject a budget if it's not properly supported by a local accountability plan.
"At any point in process, the county and ultimately the state board could look at what the community is doing and decide they need to intervene in the district," Kirst said.
But before that happens, the California PTA will be ratcheting up efforts to help parents become more familiar with the educational system.
"We want to help all parents of changing demographics to be successful in helping their kids and learning how the school system works," Kocivar said.
Claudia Meléndez Salinas can be reached at 753-6755 or firstname.lastname@example.org.