Grant proposal aimed at school climate, parent engagement

Grant proposal aimed at school climate, parent engagement

(Calif.) Concerns that a linchpin in Gov. Jerry Brown’s landmark Local Control Funding Formula is languishing has spurred support for a new block grant aimed specifically at community engagement and improving school climate.

AB 2820 from Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, could provide $100 million to help local educational agencies better connect with parents and community stakeholders in meaningful dialogue over local spending decisions and promote a safe and functional environment for kids.

“We’re finding that these are two areas that are really new to districts and county offices of education,” said Liz Guillen, director of legislative and community affairs at Public Advocates, a sponsor of the bill. “And we believe that these two things are linked and underpin local control.”

Long a champion of the “principle of subsidiarity”–where the biggest group decisions are made closest to those most affected—Brown pushed through legislation in 2012 that gave back to local school boards authority over billions of dollars in state aid.

A key condition of the getting the money was agreement by LEAs to meaningfully engage parents and other community stakeholders in their budget process.

Although there are districts where community engagement has taken place as intended, there are growing concerns that the process has proved too challenging to many other LEAs, which could undermine the entire LCFF after Brown leaves office next year.

There is also a requirement that LEAs address school climate issues and provide to the public progress reports that might include surveys of students, parents and teachers as to how they are working the on the problem.

Both are areas where districts have struggled, enough so that some have been identified as “needing improvement” under the state’s new accountability system.

McCarty’s bill, which is scheduled to come before the Assembly Education Committee for its first hearing on April 25, would set aside state money specifically to help LEAs establish best practices, develop resources and enlist help from experts in community engagement and school climate.

Although McCarty has not asked for a specific amount, a draft plan that has circulated among supportive advocates called for $100 million annually. Guillen noted that the proposal would cover a grant that would go out on a per-pupil basis, as well as cover a separate competitive process intended to encourage best practices.

Perhaps of the two issues, getting meaningful engagement between school managers and the community is likely the most difficult.

Parents often find public meetings are hard or impossible to attend because of their work schedules. And some have complained in the past that when they do attend, they sometimes do not feel like school administrators listen to them.

School officials point out that even when they schedule meetings so that parents can attend, few or sometimes even none show up.

“Something is wrong because too many stakeholders are failing to fully participate the way LCFF envisions,” said Guillen. “Just like we invested a few years ago in Common Core implementation, we need a meaningful investment to build capacity in the field to address the new climate and engagement priorities.”

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