Process and Protest: California
Molly Mauer | Executive Vice President
Educational Equity in California
Educational equity means that every student has access to the resources and educational rigor they need. It means accounting for challenges that students face because of their family background or income, or disadvantages they have suffered because of discrimination on the basis of their race, gender, ethnicity, language, or ability. Put simply, an equitable system is one where each and every student can succeed. This requires courageous and vigilant disruption of the habits and practices of the way education has historically been administered — from classrooms, school buildings, neighborhoods, and capitol buildings across the nation.
Are we on this path to equity in California?
The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) was intended to be, first and foremost, an overhaul of a complex, inequitable, seemingly top-down funding system. And a couple years in, LCFF and the requisite Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs) have yet to demonstrate consistent statewide progress around the two major goals of the effort: equity and local control.
First, LCFF certainly represents a step towards greater equity as to how state dollars move from Sacramento to districts, providing more money than was previously available for students with greater need.
Second — and this is the crux of the opportunity and the challenge — LCFF puts decision-making authority about what to do with resources into the hands of parents, students, and community members.
While the equity goals of LCFF are commendable, and many prefer the system of local control, assurances are still lacking — as are enforcement mechanisms to ensure — that districts actually use funds to improve programs and services for underserved students. This would make us all accountable and a part of the process.
In the past few months, we have examined the process for developing school accountability plans and have analyzed the 50+ state ESSA accountability plans. We now draw our attention to California. Our findings are that these five (5) pillars of meaningful engagement are essential for equity:
Representation: Reach the Unreached — Prioritizing the needs, participation, and leadership of communities that have historically been marginalized and underserved by political decision-making processes.
Transparency: Show Your Work — Making the decision-making process transparent to enable all communities to easily understand when and how to participate, as well as how their participation is valued and has a real impact.
Sustainability: Stick With It — Beginning at the earliest planning stages, continuing throughout implementation in structured, regular ways, and engage at all levels.
Collaboration: Maximize Your Resources — Working with outside partners to strengthen engagement efforts by adding resources, staff, intellectual capital, and new perspectives.
Alignment: Double Down — Aggregating and analyzing community feedback from separate and parallel efforts to identify areas of agreement, amplify the voices of the underserved, and build support for reform.
What this Means
Without adherence to these five pillars, an LCAP process can compromise a community’s ability to gather and allocate valuable and effective resources in service of their most vulnerable students.
There is an extraordinarily urgent need to change familiar and inequitable patterns and processes.
In communities with limited fiscal resources and in those facing significant challenges — efforts to improve systems often stagnate or reverse. And in spite of best intentions, without explicit and fully resourced efforts and the deliberate inclusion of underserved communities, commitments to equity often fall short and perpetuate, rather than remedy, disenfranchisement.
Yesterday, we released a report highlighting promising engagement processes in eight California districts: Process and Protest — California: How are Districts Engaging Stakeholders in LCAP Development?. The case studies illustrate how the five pillars of engagement are integral to regular, two-way dialogue with stakeholders to support and sustain educational equity. We also highlight how districts engagement practices can harness the urgency of protest — that is, disagreement or opposition to current and proposed policies and practices — to reflect on past practices, repair and strengthen trust, and prioritize their most underserved students.
With a shared goal of educational equity and excellence, we are all accountable. We are all stakeholders. We all have work to do.