LAO: Governor’s school intervention plan needs work

LAO: Governor’s school intervention plan needs work

(Calif.) Recognizing the critical stage of California’s nascent school accountability system, Gov. Jerry Brown offered close to $76 million in his January budget to help with the work of improving struggling school districts.

In a report released Wednesday, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst agreed that the intervention system deserves attention from the administration and the Legislature—they nonetheless have deep concerns over the details of the plan, as well as the overall cost.

To go with a wholesale restructuring of school finances launched in 2012, the K-12 system has also undergone a comprehensive remodeling of how school performance is defined and measured.

Adoption of the Common Core State Standards during the same period resulted in the development of a new assessment system, and over the past three years, the California State Board of Education has constructed a new method for translating multiple performance measures into a web-based dashboard for parents and community stakeholders to explain how schools are doing.

Under the new accountability system, districts with at least one student subgroup that does not meet two or more state priority areas are categorized as needing support from their county offices of education.

In December, the state released its first list of local educational agencies that fell into the Level 2 category—a total of 228 districts.

Under current state policies, counties are required to conduct an initial analysis at what the root cause of the problems might be and help address the issue either by assigning expert support or petitioning to the state’s Community Collaborative for Educational Excellence, or CCEE.

After drawing criticism last year for largely overlooking the county’s intervention burden in both his January and May budget plans, Brown this year has proposed providing $55 million to counties for this work.

Under Brown’s plan, each county office of education would receive a base amount with additional money provided based on the number of districts that need help. Counties would be given flexibility in the use of the money as long as it fits with current law.

Another $4 million would be set aside for select county offices that would serve regional needs—a selection that that would be done by the state on a competitive basis. Those offices selected would support counties in their region with the intervention of districts.

Because low test scores of students with disabilities was the most common reason districts fell into the improvement-needed category, the governor has also proposed giving $10 million to fund regional support from selected Special Education Local Plan Areas.

And $6.5 million would go to the CCEE to support the rest of the system.

The LAO said that counties were already receiving funding that is “more than sufficient” to cover the cost of helping districts, and that lawmakers should not include the additional money. Instead, districts should be allowed to go directly to the CCEE for help.

“Rather than funding Level 2 support services through a combination of COEs, COE regional leads, and SELPA regional leads, we recommend providing funding to CCEE to contract with entities interested and expert in providing such support,” the LAO said. “Under this alternative, CCEE would use a competitive grant process to select numerous support teams with the appropriate expertise.”

In addition to saving money, the LAO said the governor’s plan created uncertainty within the governance of the program.

“By creating two sets of new regional leads, the Governor’s approach includes too many actors with unclear and potentially duplicative roles,” the LAO said.

Overall, the LAO said, the governor’s plan doesn’t address the real need at the local level.

“The approach creates a multilayered system that focuses on supporting COEs (through regional leads and the CCEE), rather than focusing on districts with identified performance issues,” the LAO said.