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Audit: Local Control School Funding Model Failed To Close Achievement Gap

The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education building is shown in...

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

Above: The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education building is shown in this photo, Sept. 15, 2017.

A new audit of California’s K-12 public school funding formula has found that districts have failed to close achievement gaps since its implementation in 2013.

The audit, published Tuesday, also identified the San Diego Unified School District for not clearly justifying the use of money reserved for disadvantaged students on district-wide programs. The audit emphasizes the need for more accountability and transparency in how all districts report how they spend these funds.

“There’s additional funding going into the schools and then they turn around and throw it into the base grant and don’t do programs they can be accountable for,” said San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber. “And we still have these kids failing. That is unacceptable.”

The audit analyzed the statewide impact of the Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF, since it was implemented in 2013. The funding model was designed to give local school districts more freedom in deciding how to spend state money while giving additional grants for a district’s “unduplicated population” of English learners, foster students and students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch.

Under LCFF, school districts receive a base grant based on enrollment and average daily attendance. They receive an additional 20% of that base grant as a “supplemental grant” for every student in the unduplicated population. The state gives even more money in the form of “concentration grants” to districts with more than 55% classified as English learners, foster students or low income.

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Reported by Matt Hoffman , Video by Nicholas Mcvicker

Weber has been been an advocate for more reporting on how districts spend on disadvantaged students. In 2017, she proposed a requirement for districts to report how much money goes to individual schools. The proposal was struck down after push-back from school administrators.

The audit found that San Diego Unified spent $5.2 million in supplemental and concentration grants in the 2018-19 school year on libraries across the district. According to the audit, the district did not “sufficiently explain” how libraries would serve English learners, foster children and low-income students. This was nearly an $800,000 increase since 2017-18. This school year, the district budgeted $5.7 million.

District spokesman Andrew Sharp said the libraries provide computers and internet to students who might not have those resources at home.

In light of Weber and the auditor’s call for more oversight, the gray area in how districts can spend supplemental and concentration grants raises a broader question about how accountability can be balanced with local control.

“The question is, do you want your local superintendents focusing on reporting on budget items or out there in communities visiting schools?” said Joe Bishop, an education professor at UCLA. “It’s really important that we don’t burden districts.”

Bishop and a team of researchers published a report in September showing that San Diego has been able to raise graduation and college readiness rates under the Local Control Funding Formula.

But Bishop agrees with the auditor that more oversight from the county, state and community is necessary to ensure these dollars are supporting disadvantaged student groups.

“San Diego Unified like other districts could do a better job of explaining how they’re spending the money,” he said. “The idea of investing in libraries makes sense, but I think the bigger issue is, is it possible to track dollars to students?”

Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

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