State auditors officially take up LCFF spending review

State auditors officially take up LCFF spending review

(Calif.) Some Democratic lawmakers continue to be skeptical of how school districts are using state money provided under the Local Control Funding Formula, and have now asked that a formal audit be undertaken.

Elaine Howle, the state auditor, announced this week she has accepted a request from the Legislature’s joint audit committee to look closely at how LCFF money has been used at three large school districts in different parts of the state.

At issue are long-standing concerns that much of the LCFF money intended to support services for three at-risk subgroups is being syphoned off for other uses.

Born out of academic theories largely developed by Mike Kirst, a retired education professor from Stanford University and a decades-long advisor to former Gov. Jerry Brown, the LCFF restructured the financial relationship between the state and local educational agencies by directing more money to low-income students, English learners and foster youth.

Brown pushed the proposal through the Legislature in 2013, but only after agreeing to implement a corresponding compliance element, the Local Control Accountability Plan, or LCAP.

The LCAPs are supposed to describe how districts are using the LCFF money to serve the targeted subgroups. LEAs are also required to build the plans in consultation with parents and community groups.

There have been, however, anecdotal reports that some districts were not using all the money in compliance with the law. Some critics have questioned, for instance, if LCFF money could be properly used to pay teacher salaries when only some of the students in their classrooms were among the targeted subgroups.

Two years ago, lawmakers considered legislation that would have required LEAs to report actual per-pupil spending by school site. That bill, by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, died in the state Senate at least in part because of the governor’s opposition.

Brown resisted almost all legislation that tinkered with the new school funding program, arguing that schools needed to be given time to adjust to it.

Now, with Gov. Gavin Newsom in office, changes could be coming, especially if auditors turn up improper spending.

As proposed, Howle’s team will examine the methodology each of the three districts use for distributing the LCFF money. Howle will decide which districts to audit.

Auditors will attempt to determine how much LCFF money is actually spent on educational services for the three targeted student groups.

The analysis will go back three years.

Separately, the auditor will undertake a second examination of how state money is being used to help homeless students.

Agencies covered under this audit include the California Department of Education and the state board, as well as one charter school and a selection of five LEAs.

No deadline has been released for either of the audits.

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