This is an excerpt of On Assignment, education writer Theresa Harrington's blog on Contra Costa County schools. Read more and post comments at IBABuzz.com/onassignment. Follow Harrington at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa or Facebook.com/TheresaHarringtonBANG.

Nov. 1:

The state Board of Education could face a showdown Thursday over proposed regulations for school spending under the new Local Control Funding Formula.

A coalition of civil rights groups that includes Education Trust-West sent a letter Friday to Michael Kirst, board president, expressing strong concerns about whether money intended for disadvantaged students will really end up helping them. The advocacy group EdVoice sent a similar letter.

Draft language to be reviewed by trustees would give school districts three ways to satisfy the requirement that they demonstrate increased or improved services for English learners, low-income students and foster youth in proportion to increased funding distributed through supplemental and concentration grants.

1. Districts could spend more money on services for those students in proportion to the increase in supplemental and concentration grant funds over the amount spent the previous year.

2. Districts could provide more, or improve, services for those students in proportion to the increase in grant funding.

3. Districts could promise to improve the achievement of disadvantaged students in proportion to the increase in grant funding.

Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Education Trust-West, said the civil rights coalition supports combining the first two options and eliminating the third.

"We think that's the most rational way for them to actually comply with the law," he said. "That would be providing for and spending more on high need students."

The first option could allow districts to claim they will spend more, without documenting what they would spend it on, he said. If the second option is combined with the first, districts would be forced to outline how they would spend the money on needy students, he said.

Ramanathan called the option to promise to increase achievement "the biggest loophole ever."

"So, basically, you say, 'OK, we're just going to plan on increasing achievement in the next few years, and we're just going to use our money whatever way we want," Ramanathan said. "They have structural costs they want to address. They want to put chunks of money into salary increases and to offset health benefits costs and put money into reserves. But that money is to be used for kids."

Under Gov. Jerry Brown's radical shift in school funding, districts get three pots of money: base student grants; supplemental grants for English learners, low-income students and foster youth; and concentration grants for districts where more than 55 percent of students fall into those categories. The idea behind the new law was that the supplemental and concentration grants would help districts overcome persistent achievement gaps.

After the law went into effect July 1, an implementation working group began meeting to come up with draft recommendations for spending regulations the board must approve by January. Although Ed Trust-West and some other advocacy groups participated in the group, Ramanathan said their voices were drowned out by representatives of those who work inside school systems, including unions for teachers and administrators.

Many union members are now eyeing the new money for raises. Ramanathan said it's appropriate to use the base grant money for across-the-board raises, but not the supplemental and concentration grants.

"I think what they've done now is essentially a bait-and-switch," he said. "When it comes down to it, they are listening to the Sacramento interest groups."

Similarly, the letter from EdVoice said the proposed regulations "fall far short of the governor's promise and don't satisfy the protections of all students guaranteed by the Constitution."

Ramanathan challenged the board to think about the legacy promised to California children.

"If you're going to have essentially a vast swath of civil rights organizations saying this isn't fair," he said, "then what's the legacy here?"

To see the letters from the civil rights coalition and EdVoice, go to the On Assignment blog.