It’s never a good sign when public officials refuse to answer questions. That’s what happened when CALmatters reporter Jessica Calefati visited two Los Angeles County school districts in January and asked to review their budgets as part of an investigation into educational outcomes under the state’s Local Control Funding Formula.
Her requests were denied and she was turned away. Calefati wrote in March that the experience was “emblematic of an access problem” with the school funding system that the state adopted in 2013.
The Local Control Funding Formula was a tectonic shift in the way California school districts are funded. Prior to the LCFF, the education budget included designated funding for many categories of programs, like school safety and gifted-and-talented education. That system was swept away and replaced by a funding formula that directed more money to schools with higher numbers of English learners, foster children and students from low-income families.
Calefati was examining 15 districts where nine out of 10 students qualified for the extra funding. More than half of the districts refused to respond to her questions, and some even complained that her inquiries would require hundreds of hours of staff time to “go back and find something we didn’t track.”
What no one was tracking is how much money the state of California had invested in school districts with the highest concentrations of disadvantaged students, how school officials had spent the money, and whether anything had been accomplished by it.
The results of the CALmatters investigation have just been published, and they’re not encouraging. Despite an extra $31 billion spent on the targeted districts with the goal of closing the “achievement gap” between disadvantaged students and their more well-off counterparts, the gap in reading and math scores actually widened in many cases.
The 15 districts examined by CALmatters saw an average budget increase of 63 percent over…