English Language Learner Success During the Era of Local Control Funding in California
Since California’s adoption of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) in 2013, K–12 school districts have been given more autonomy in setting funding priorities and enacting policies through actions and services for students. The state supplies unrestricted funding to K–12 districts in return for an accountability document, the LCAP, which sets goals for the district in spending those funds. The LCFF supplies districts with additional funding based on its population of (a) English Language Learner (EL) students, (b) free/reduced lunch students, and (c) homeless or foster students. The funds are intended to provide equitable funding for these students, but since the districts are able to set their own priorities for spending those funds, the state does not compel the districts to spend them in a targeted fashion. Education researchers have often studied the effect that funding models and education finance policy can have on student outcomes with little consensus on the effects of targeted funding. Under the LCFF, funding is more directly related to student outcomes because decisions about actions and services are set at the district level, and not at the state level. This provides an opportunity for districts to create and implement programs and services that directly reflect their particular challenges and the strengths of their communities. This study attempted to establish a correlation between district policy, as set in districts’ LCAP documents, and EL student achievement in four districts by using an explanatory sequential mixed-methods analysis to show that districts with specific, active, and detailed policies for increasing EL student achievement are more likely to achieve that goal. The four districts were selected via a quantitative analysis of all California school districts, identifying the two that increased EL student achievement—in two state reported metrics, “Percentage Redesignated Fluent English Proficient” (RFEP) and “Percentage Making English Growth Target” (EGT)—the most after implementation of the LCFF and LCAP funding paradigm (years 2011–2013 versus 2013–2016), and the two with the greatest decrease in EL student achievement for the same years. A qualitative analysis of the LCAP documents for these four districts show that the visibility of actions and services that support EL students in a targeted manner is correlated with an increase in EL student achievement. These results are further illuminated with interviews, conducted with district personnel from the two districts with the highest increased EL achievement in the LCFF era, which show greater involvement with families and the community in creating a more equitable environment in which their EL students succeed. These results are contextualized in the ongoing policy and education research discussions of new local accountability systems in California, equitable funding for EL students, and the effect of unrestricted funds on student outcomes.