THE BLOG
04/15/2014 03:13 pm ET Updated Jun 15, 2014

The $6.8 Billion Question: Who Should Control School Funding?

This year's newly released LA Unified School District draft budget is the first in years that is not an exercise in how to cut programs, positions and services. It is a rare opportunity to make a renewed investment in our highest need students. Thanks to the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), LAUSD has an unprecedented ability, and imperative, to invest in the things that will most drive student achievement, particularly for our English Language Learners, foster youth, and help students living in poverty. At the same time, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the teachers union of LA Unified, is electing a new leader who will be tasked with bargaining these expenditures and leading teachers in ensuring school and student needs remain the priority.

With its first draft of the 2014-15 LCFF budget, the district leadership has laid out its vision for the coming year. As part of CLASS, a coalition of education, community and civil rights groups, E4E has been calling for the vast majority of these funds to be spent at the local school site. The district's initial budget proposal does not meet that requirement -- less than 15 percent of LCFF dollars are slated to be spent at the local school level. While the district does aim to create a plan for shifting to full school budget autonomy over the next few years, E4E would like to see the district move harder and faster to empower schools with more control over these critical decisions. Given the importance of this issue and the ongoing election of our next UTLA president, it's critical that both candidates declare their position so that teachers have a clear picture of their next union leader's vision for school funding, particularly his thoughts on the balance between centralized and local decision making.

In the first round of voting for this election, Educators 4 Excellence asked the candidates to put down in writing their plans for several policy issues, including LCFF. We published their responses, along with information on the process for voting, in "Your Union, Your Voice," the first independent voter guide for the 2014 UTLA Presidential election. Starting last week, I began highlighting the responses of the two run-off candidates -- Alex Caputo-Pearl and current President Warren Fletcher -- as well as perspectives from our members at Educators 4 Excellence, and community leaders working toward education justice. Find the first entry, on union-district collaboration, here. I'll be presenting perspectives on a topic that is impacting all of California: How do we fund our schools? Here is the actual question we posed to our UTLA presidential candidates as well as a community leader and a teacher leader.

The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) provides an opportunity for LAUSD to invest differently in students and schools. Should the majority of those dollars be spent locally by staff and parents at schools, or centrally by UTLA and LAUSD leadership? Please explain your selection. Over 70 percent of E4E teacher-leaders identified this as an important or critical policy issue for the next UTLA president to undertake.

What President Fletcher Said...
Current UTLA President Fletcher declined to answer the first part of the question due to his position as acting President of UTLA, but did write that he believes, "distribution must be balanced between local funding and central funding." He first wants to see a restoration of services and positions that were cut during the tight budgets of the last few years. "There must be a District-wide guaranteed baseline of services, like Arts instruction, libraries and nursing, that every student, at every school, has access to, regardless of local budgetary decisions," he explained. "Autonomy is important, but it cannot trump student needs." Read this candidate's full response at the E4E UTLA Presidential Election hub.

What Presidential Contender Alex Caputo-Pearl Said...
Candidate Caputo-Pearl believes that the majority of LCFF dollars should be spent centrally for "baseline guarantees...like class size reductions, Health and Human Service staffing, existence of classes and programs and educator salaries." He wants to see "an ongoing discussion between educators, parents, communities, and LAUSD, with UTLA "providing leadership" to make decisions around balancing centralized and localized expenditures. Read this candidate's full response at the E4E UTLA Presidential Election hub.

What UTLA Committee Chair and E4E member Bianca Sanchez, said...
Bianca wants to see LCFF seized as an opportunity to change the way we think and talk about school funding. "The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) presents an exciting new opportunity to think about how we can allocate that funding in a different way - and fund based on student need, rather than adult bureaucracy...There is potential here for transformative change." She believes the shift to school-based decision-making presents the best possibility for innovative and student-focused expenditures. "LCFF should mean that schools are empowered to make decisions that work for them, for their campuses, and for their student populations. Cookie cutter approaches to education funding cannot be successful when the recipe for success is so different from school district to school district." To read more about Bianca's views on school funding from a classroom perspective, read her OpEd here.

What Community Leader Arun Ramanathan Said...
Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director of the Education Trust - West, said spending decisions should be focused on providing equitable resources for all children. "The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) is premised on the idea that communities and districts should work together to develop a plan for how to help all students achieve at high levels," he explained. "Regardless of where the spending decision is actually made, the most important thing is that supplemental and concentration funds benefit the students who generated them and are not diverted away from kids."

At the end of the day, budget decisions are policy decisions. The Local Control Funding Formula can be an opportunity for both the district and union to put real dollars into the promises we've made to our children and our community. It's an opportunity to define, in real funding terms, what we mean by "equity." The next UTLA President will help form this definition, and teachers must be proactive in letting their leader know what their students and communities need and want to see next year. As this article goes to print, ballots for the second round of voting are out to teachers, and due back April 29. Visit our "Your Union, Your Voice," a voter guide for the 2014 UTLA Presidential Election to uncover the full perspectives of UTLA presidential candidates Warren Fletcher and Alex Caputo-Pearl.