Michael Kirst, the architect of the Local Control Funding Formula and then its chief implementer as president of the California State Board of Education for the first five years after its passage in 2013, freely acknowledges the law needs some changes. In an interview marking the law’s 10th anniversary, he said these include refinements to steer more funding to the highest-poverty students, added emphasis to see that more qualified teachers and instructional resources reach high-needs schools, and more work to make districts’ accountability plans readable and useful.

Among his disappointments is the failure of school boards to use the power of local control to experiment more and go beyond what they’ve always done.

“This was their chance to get beyond formulaic budgets and the budget complexity to create a three-year budget plan with clear priorities. And generally, my impression is that they have not,” he said.

However, he also said he’s pleased that Gov. Gavin Newsom has kept the funding formula largely intact and raised funding by record amounts in bountiful years.  “It was not a hostile takeover by an incoming administration,” he said.

The funding formula, known best by its acronym, replaced the system burdened by top-down restricted programs, called categorical grants, with a simpler, more equitable approach that gave districts more control over general funding. It also steered significant funding to districts with more low-income students, foster children and English learners — students the law defined as having higher needs.

Newsom has used unanticipated funding to direct billions of dollars to community schools and other new programs that critics say signal a return to multiyear categoricals. But Kirst said he’s not concerned because they use one-time surplus funding, not ongoing funding at odds with LCFF.

LCFF marked a major redistribution of funding, with low-income districts the clear beneficiaries, and it was achieved without a lawsuit that could have delayed LCFF for years. But Kirst said LCFF failed to address the state’s inattention to training teachers in effective instruction and the state’s academic standards. More accountability provisions under LCFF won’t change that; and neither will local control, he said.

The state must take the initiative on professional development funded outside LCFF — a subject the 83-year-old emeritus Stanford education and business administration professor is delving into in his latest book. It’s due out later this year.

What follows is a transcript of the interview, edited for length and clarity. Read it at https://edsource.org/2023/mike-kirst-on-lcff-at-age-10-what-has-worked-and-what-remains-to-be-done/690010


Has the Local Control Funding Formula met expectations? What should we change to make it work better? We’ve rounded up a variety of perspectives on one of California’s most important school finance reforms. Read more at https://edsource.org/?p=689707&preview=true.

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