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 her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa or Facebook.com/TheresaHarringtonBANG.

March 14

As the July 1 deadline for creating district spending plans is looming under the state's new Local Control Funding Formula, school officials should be asking parents how they believe money should be spent to best serve their children.

The state is allocating extra money to districts with low-income students, English learners and foster youth to help them close the achievement gap by providing services and programs to help disadvantaged children overcome challenges.

Ideally, districts should be telling parents how much money they are receiving through base grants for all students and through supplemental grants for disadvantaged students. Districts with more than 55 percent of students who fall into the three disadvantaged categories also receive concentration grants intended to provide extra help for them.


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But some districts are more transparent than others about sharing their budget numbers with their communities during this planning process. To help level the playing field, the Education Trust-West advocacy organization has created a website at www.fairshare4kids.org that provides a searchable database of most districts in the state showing how much each district is supposed to spend on high-need students. The database does not include districts serving 100 students or less, or those with very few disadvantaged students that are receiving Economic Recovery Target Grants to help them reach the goal of increasing funding to 2007-08 levels in eight years.

Here's a comparison of the percentage of disadvantaged students in some Alameda and Contra Costa districts, followed by the amount of money designated to serve those students next year, according to the site:

ALAMEDA COUNTY

Hayward: 76 percent; $16 million

Livermore: 30 percent; $2.4 million

Newark: 60 percent; $2.8 million

Oakland: 74 percent; $27 million

San Lorenzo: 68 percent; $6.3 million

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY

Antioch: 65 percent; $8.4 million

John Swett: 69 percent; $905,441

Mt. Diablo: 49 percent; $9.5 million

Pittsburg: 86 percent; $8.9 million

West Contra Costa: 74 percent; $19 million

Each district must include this amount of money designated for disadvantaged students in its Local Control Accountability Plan, or LCAP. These plans must describe a district's goals, actions, and expenditures across eight state priority areas. The plans must also explain how supplemental and concentration funding will be spent on high-need students and describe how the district's expenditures will increase or improve services for those students.

Districts are required to include a parent advisory group in the creation of the plans, said Carrie Hahnel of EdTrust-West. Some districts are creating special groups for this purpose, while others are using existing parent advisory groups, she said.

A best practice is to create a special group that includes representatives for low-income students, English learners and foster youth, she said. In addition, Hahnel said students should be involved in the process.

"There's a difference between just asking for their input and authentically engaging them," she said. "What we hear from some students is that stakeholders will share lists of things that they care about, but they don't feel that's going to actually affect the district's plan in any way."

Some districts are holding community meetings to explain the state's requirements and solicit feedback. But Hahnel said it's really important to make the connection between the budget and the plan during these meetings, instead of merely creating wish lists of programs and services.

"For some reason, districts want to skip over the budget part and get to the plan part once they get people in the room," she said. "If the district has a strategic plan, put it out there. Talk about the new funding and have a dialogue about trade-offs. If we do a lot of new things, we might have old things we have to cut, so let's talk about what we value and how much room we have for new investments."