For Sandy Mendoza, advocacy manager of the Los Angeles-based organization Families in Schools, the difference between parent involvement and parent engagement could make or break California’s new school funding law.
The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), she says, “is going to be an opportunity for us to help the parents become more than involved – rather, it’s becoming more engaged … Involvement means more what the district wants from parents [in order] to fit [the district’s] agenda, as opposed to engagement, which means really listening to what the parents want and what they need.”
Educators, advocates, and community members came together recently at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation to discuss the new law. Over the next 8 years, education spending in California will increase, and more money will be allocated to districts with greater numbers of high-needs students. Districts will now have more flexibility in how they spend funds, but they’ll also be more accountable for the outcomes of their decisions. This spring, school districts are required to develop their Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs), which detail how they’ll serve their high-needs students, and, crucially, must incorporate community input.
“Parents can make a difference when it comes to governance, when it comes to change,” said Mendoza. “They want to see transparency, they want accountability, and if we want to see LCFF succeed, it has to go hand in hand with authentic, meaningful parent engagement.”
Michael Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education, says that community participation in the writing of the LCAPs will enhance the budget process and bring about local accountability.
“The state cannot really understand well enough the local conditions in 1,100 school districts, counting the charter schools,” he said. “We need to reverse in some ways the power and participation flow.”
The Redwood City School District is a standout at this stage of the process. Superintendent Jan Christensen says that her district started with informational meetings on the LCFF last fall. Then, school board members went to all the schools in the district and held meetings on the LCFF and the LCAPs. The district followed that with community meetings that included parent committees, and has started exploring how to draft an LCAP that reflects everyone’s input.
“We wanted our stakeholders to know that it was very transparent, that all voices would be heard and listened to, and we went about developing a process with them,” she said. “I firmly believe that we have to listen to everyone.”
Mendoza wants to make sure, though, that it’s not only the “same old parents” who are being heard. She suggests implementing community report cards to monitor how well districts are doing at engaging all parents. Anne Campbell, the superintendent of the San Mateo County Office of Education, also spoke about the importance of reaching out to all parents – not just the ones who have traditionally been involved, but as many from the community as possible.
It’s the County Offices of Education that will be charged with seeing that the districts’ LCAPs adhere to expenditure requirements around high-needs students, according to Kirst.
Tony Bui, a sophomore at James Lick High School in San Jose and a student leader at advocacy organization Californians for Justice, says that students’ opinions on what schools need must be heard as well. Having attended both private and public schools, he points out some of the differences he’s observed – private schools are better maintained and have newer textbooks and better technology, he says. At public schools, there often aren’t enough custodians, and teachers might not even have access to extra pencils for students who need them.
Christensen echoed his thoughts, adding that “Silicon Valley should be ashamed of itself” with regard to conditions in some area schools, including a lack of technology, even amidst the extreme wealth of the local tech sector.
Ted Lempert, the president of advocacy organization Children Now, says that the ultimate goal of the LCFF is to make sure that every child is able to graduate and have the skills to succeed in life.
“We need to do right by every single one of our kids,” he said.
He cautions that the LCFF doesn’t fix California’s overall funding problem when it comes to education. Schools are still struggling due to years of recession-era budget cuts.
The advocates agree that the new funding law provides an opportunity to bring parents into the budget process and get resources to the kids who need them most. But it all needs to start with engagement.