California’s Local Control Funding Formula, often referred to as Governor Jerry Brown’s crowning achievement, was implemented with the intention of finally remedying K-12 educational inequity and closing substantial achievement gaps across racial and class lines. But did it actually succeed in adequately supporting disadvantaged students, or does it simply replicate long-standing patterns of inequity?
The Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF, disperses 70% of the available funding for our state public schools, replacing the infamously inequitable “revenue limit system” with a three-tiered funding framework. The “base grant” is available uniformly to all “local educational agencies,” or districts.
The amount is determined by grade level and is multiplied by average daily attendance within the district. Supplemental and concentration funding is allocated based on the share of enrolled students qualifying as “high-need,” including students eligible for free or reduced lunch, English learners and foster/homeless youth. Both the supplemental and concentration grants are apportioned based on a set percentage of the district’s base grant allocation — thus its calculation using average daily attendance numbers is a vital detail in the apportionment of school funds.
California is one of six remaining states using the average daily attendance method for calculating the funding of public schools, as its usage dwindles nationwide. In practice, using measures of daily attendance to allocate funding penalizes districts with lower attendance rates, lowering the amount of funding they receive per student. Regardless of how many students are enrolled, school districts only receive funding for the students who show up. When considering the well-established correlation between absenteeism and household income, this poses an issue in the LCFF’s impact that is antithetical toward its objective of educational equity.
Students with lower socioeconomic statuses are disproportionately absent from school compared to their upper class peers. A 2018 study found that 23.2% of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch missed three or more days of school per month compared to 15.4% of their peers who were not eligible. This is due to a plethora of unique and multifaceted barriers to attendance that these students and their families face, including, but not limited to, transportation limitations, housing insecurity, high-stress within the household and immigration status complications.
These widespread, repeated occurrences too often result in thousands of direly-needed dollars deprived from low-income schools due to the LCFF’s apportionment framework. To make the inequality of our school funding policy worse, not all districts rely on attendance to pay their teachers, payroll programs and buy school supplies. The funds a district is determined by the LCFF to be entitled to is awarded from a combination of local property and state taxes. If a district does not have the sufficient funds to reach the value set by the LCFF, the state imparts the rest from its own tax revenues. A wealthy few “basic aid,” or excess revenue districts, with local property taxes high enough to exceed their calculated LCFF value, are able to keep the overflow of funds received, regardless of their levels of attendance.
These districts with high enough property values to forego most state tax aid tend to be demographically composed of students belonging to higher socioeconomic statuses and disproportionately lower levels of underrepresented minorities. Within San Diego County, for example, the basic aid districts of Del Mar Union, Solana Beach, Rancho Santa Fe and San Dieguito Union all have higher percentages of white residents than lower-income districts relying on state taxes within a region like National City. These regressive policies punish poor students in areas of low property values for “individual, family-related, and community-specific barriers” to attendance out of their control, and can have grave consequences for their futures.
When coupled with our long-standing history of preserved racial segregation in urban communities, economic oppression across lines of race and construction of isolated high-poverty neighborhoods through public policy, this has disastrous effects on the quality of schools in the areas low-income and minority students reside in. The LCFF ultimately is another factor in the widening inequality it aims to eradicate, contributing to the legacy of disadvantage which has existed since this nation’s inception.
California must adjust its funding practices to keep in line with our values of equity, and truly stand by our promise to lead all of our students to academic success, regardless of their background. Rather than calculating the funding of districts using average daily attendance, we must join the nation’s majority and allocate district funding according to average enrollment.
90% of California districts would receive greater funding with an enrollment-based formula, particularly increasing funding for high school districts and districts with more low-income, English learner and foster youth students. Quality education is vital in a globalized economy which has lost its high-paying blue collar opportunities for economic mobility, and in which a higher education is nearly necessary to gain access to higher incomes.
Children should not need to show up to school in order to have their education accounted for, nor should their ability to access quality education be dictated by the property values of their neighborhood. The LCFF, much like its predecessor, doesn’t do enough to reverse structural disadvantages in our education system and thus must be adjusted.