Ed Reform Activists Seek to Engage Parents In School Funding Decisions | EGP News

While many educators and school reform activists hail California’s new school funding formula that will direct more money to K-12 schools with high numbers of low-income students and low-levels of academic achievement, many also say they are worried not enough is being done to inform parents they can have a say in how those funds are allocated.

The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) is intended to reduce the achievement gap at low-income schools by giving those schools more control over how to use the money to achieve that goal. It specifically requires the involvement of parents; a difficult task to manage, since many are unaware of the state’s plan or their possible role in making it work.

At a recent town hall meeting in East Los Angeles, students and parents voiced their belief that Eastside and South Central schools receive less funding than schools in higher income neighborhoods. Parents said they are frustrated over the lack of basic resources at nearby schools.

Parents and students gathered at a town hall meeting hosted by InnerCity Struggle and CLASS to learn how to bring money to low-income schools. (Courtesy of Aaron Humprey)

“We need very basic stuff, such as paper,” Maria Ruiz, an East Los Angeles resident and mother of two LAUSD students told EGP. “Teachers are being limited on the numbers of copies they can make,” she said explaining that a lack of “appropriate materials” makes it more difficult for students to learn.

About 150 parents and students attended the meeting to inform high school students and their parents about local school funding and the need for them to get involved in deciding how funds at their school are spent. The meeting was hosted by Communities for Los Angeles School Success (CLASS), a coalition of about 40 community partners advocating for improvements at Los Angeles Unified School district schools, and InnerCity Struggle, a non-profit group that advocates for education equality.

The governor and legislators approved the Local Control Funding Formula in 2013.

“The money comes from Prop 30, which was approved by the voters in 2012 as a response to the economic crisis,” InnerCity lead organizer Roberto Bustillo told EGP. Proposition 30 increased the state sales tax and income taxes for Californians who make over $250,000 a year.

“LCFF is about making sure schools that serve the neediest students get the resources they need to close the achievement and opportunity gaps that exist in neighborhoods,” Maria Brenes, executive director of InnerCity Struggle said in a press release. “These school communities must also be given the authority to direct spending where the biggest impact can be made guided by a vision of supporting all students,” she added.

Before the adoption of the local funding formula, Bustillo says the way California distributed funds to the more than 1,000 school districts in the state was  “unjust.” It did not take into consideration the “reality nor necessity of each school,” he said. Schools in higher income communities “with more capability to apply for funding would be the ones benefiting from those resources.”

Backers of the change wanted to provide more financial resources to aid youth in foster care, English learners and low-income students.

A recent report published by New America Media and EdSource Today explains that all school districts are required to work with their communities.

“With about half of California’s 6 million public school students coming from low-income homes and 40% from homes where English is not the primary language, the new law represents a significant opportunity” to help students succeed, the report states.

Ruiz calls the change a “very good opportunity” for schools to overcome years of “budget cuts and teachers furloughs.”

School districts are required to “draw up a Local Control and Accountability Plan” by July 2014. The plan must detail how funds will be used to meet annual achievement goals for students during the 2014-2015 school year. School districts are also required to hold public meetings and “get input from a district-level parent advisory committee and if possible from an English learner parent advisory committee.”

While their organizations cannot directly participate in developing the funding plan, education reform activists say they are working hard to make sure parents are aware of their opportunity to influence how local education funds are spent. Nancy Meza, strategic communications coordinator with InnerCity Struggle, told EGP they intend to hold more forums because schools “may only do a phone call or send a letter” to inform parents, a process her organization considers inadequate for getting parents “engaged with the school.”

“Although this is historical, it is also complicated for parents,” Meza said.  “That’s why we are doing forums and providing information to students and parents.”

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