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Survey Finds California Parents Want To Shape Use of State School Funding

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While most California parents have little knowledge about the state's new funding law, a new survey finds that they want to assist with local plans to determine how those education dollars are spent.

EdSource, an Oakland-based nonprofit, commissioned the poll to gauge parents' understanding of the newly adopted Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and to measure their ability and interest in volunteering to help identify local education budgeting needs. The telephone survey of about 1,000 parents was conducted by the polling firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3) between Nov. 5 and Nov. 12 and was underwritten by the California Endowment.

The survey, which was released Dec. 5, found that 57 percent of parents reported knowing "nothing at all" about the funding formula with only 9 percent saying that they knew "a great deal" about the law. The LCFF, which was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in July, aims to give schools and districts greater flexibility in managing their budgets by eliminating revenue limits and most categorical programs. The education funding law also pumps additional funds into districts with higher percentages of students receiving free and reduced-priced meals, English-language learners and foster children.

Under the law, parent involvement is one of eight priorities that districts must meet. (So far, it's unclear how this will be measured.) The legislation also requires districts to include parents in the "planning and implementation of the LCFF," according to the California Department of Education website.

While some federal programs like Title I, have parental involvement requirements, the LCFF "does seem to raise the bar higher across the board," said Louis Freedberg, the executive director of EdSource.

Freedberg said the survey, which found that most parents are pleased with their children's schools, shows that a solid foundation exists to involve parents in vital education budget decisions in California.

After getting a brief overview of the LCFF, 77 percent of parents surveyed say they support the funding formula, while 10 percent oppose it. And the majority of parents are willing to volunteer their time to help with the school decision-making process—61 percent reported that they would commit between one and three hours participating in the process. 

However, Freedberg cautioned that school districts must strike a delicate balance throughout their budget discussions. The survey showed parents want "meaningful" involvement, but Freedberg said it might be difficult for districts to meet parents' education priorities due to budget constraints.

Ensuring that parents have a seat at the decision-making table can be a challenge for some schools and districts as well. While the poll found 76 percent of parents were very or somewhat involved in their child's school, there were differences in the level of participation based on income level. Only 24 percent of those reporting incomes of $30,000 or less considered themselves "very involved," compared to 39 percent of parents with incomes of $100,000 or more.

In addition, more low-income parents (39 percent) believe that only a small group of parents can be part of decision-making at their child's school, compared to a lower prooportion of high-income parents (19 percent) who share that same belief.

The survey also found most parents still rely on their children to receive information from school, a source that most can agree is highly unreliable. And although email is popular among some parents, few low-income families communicate via email with their schools. Freedberg said schools serving the children of low-income parents will need to adopt better strategies to bolster parent engagement, providing language translation services or child care, for instance.

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