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California State Board Set to Consider New, Hotly Contested Funding Rules

In another major step toward implementation of California's new school-funding system, the state school board has posted revised regulations for the Local Control Funding Formula and will officially consider them at its Jan. 16 meeting. 

Although a great deal of attention was paid to the formula's passage last year, lawmakers left up to the state board many of the details about the overhaul, which will direct more resources to districts with large shares of high-needs students (English-language learners, low-income students, and students in foster care) and cut down on state bureaucratic oversight.

Board members reviewed an initial draft of regulations two months ago, and there was a great deal of interest and public testimony about the proposed new rules (188 individuals giving testimony, to be exact). As you might expect, the broadest area of debate was exactly how much flexibility districts should be given in deciding how to spend those extra dollars on needy students.

WestEd, an education research and consulting company based in San Francisco, worked on developing that draft. It went back to the drawing board after those public comments and further direction by board members to revise certain areas of the regulations.

In the draft regulations discussed two months ago, there was a lot of discussion and disagreement about the ways local education agencies (including districts and county offices of education) could satisfy the formula's requirement for properly spending their newfound cash. The method that attracted controversy was the "achieve more" option, in which districts could satisfy the requirement by showing significant student growth over a two-year period using state or local academic data. Since this option for meeting the formula's requirement didn't involve targeted spending on needy students, many K-12 advocates and others didn't like it. 

What's the result? It's no longer an option in the revised regulations. The January regulations developed by WestEd now state that districts must describe "increased and improved services and spending" in districts' Local Control and Accountability Plans, which lay out districts' annual performance goals for students based on both state and local objectives.

In addition, the revised regulations will require local education agencies with enrollments of needy students above certain thresholds to identify in their accountability plans what services are being provided to those students, and "describe how those services are meeting the district's goals for the unduplicated pupils in the state priority areas."

It will be interesting to see if the state board makes any further adjustment to the regulations before passing them. The board is required to approve the regulations by Jan. 31, and there's no scheduled board meeting between its Jan. 16 gathering and the end of the month. 

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