Exploring the connection between LCFF and uplifting student voice

A case study of a local educational agency in San Jose can be an example to others as they look to advance student voice and create more equitable academic outcomes among K-12 learners.

Nothing About Us Without Us: A Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) Case Study on East Side Union High School District, released in January by the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools in partnership with Californians for Justice, examines the connection between the implementation of the LCFF, changes in LEAs’ cultures, practices and structures, and increasing student interest and participation in education issues.

The LCFF’s weighted formula, implemented roughly nine years ago, allocates additional resources to LEAs based on how many low-income students, foster youth and English language learners they serve.

LCFF has given LEAs more flexibility and increased districts’ opportunities to perform transformational and equity-focused work, according to the study. A primary goal of LCFF is uplifting the views of district stakeholders like students and including their input on how state resources should be used in Local Control and Accountability Plans.

While a rise in young peoples’ involvement in education has been observed, “efforts to implement student voice and power are often muddled by concerns over their value, legitimacy, and purpose,” the study states.

Many education leaders and policymakers are looking to incorporate student voice while also pondering questions about how youth can support racial justice efforts in the field, if student voice will produce improved educational outcomes, how it will impact the educational experience and how districts can work with youth-led community-based organizations.

Findings at East Side Union High School District 

Among the case study’s key findings are the potential for LEAs to work with community-based organizations to forward equity and educational justice efforts, and that structure and culture are interdependent when it comes to supporting youth voice.

Additionally, having democratic and critical spaces to participate in was proven to help shape students’ civic identities and foster engagement with their education.

“I’m actually letting my voice and my thoughts be heard, rather than just keeping them in and silently observing,” said Gaby, a sophomore in the district. “[This work] has helped us gain power to take back our schools. I know there’s a lot of focus at our school on academics without really seeing other things. We are much more than only academics.”

Lastly, the study found that when students have power and leadership opportunities, they “defy deficit and adultist beliefs about them” — meaning they overcome misconceptions about them based on their age or other factors.

As for impact, the case study found that at East Side Union HSD, student voice supports the vision of the district; students can refine existing work by offering nuance and perspectives that positively impact decisions; and students leverage their perspectives to bring new ideas to the district.

In order to truly support youth voice, schools need to be ready to face deep-seated structures, practices and cultures, according to the study.

“This case study demonstrates how the leadership, knowledge, and determination of students have improved the educational policies, practices, and experiences of students within the district, and created new paths and possibilities for what education can look like,” the report concluded.

What LEAs can do

The case study offers six district-level recommendations for youth-led change.

Recommendations include:

  • Ensuring that equity and parity are addressed in “structures” made for stakeholder participation in educational leadership, governance and policymaking
  • Designing democratic governance and empowerment efforts and policies to encourage systemwide transformation
  • Prioritizing nurturing youth voice to undo “deficit-oriented beliefs” about student groups, particularly students of color, Indigenous youth and additional marginalized young people
  • Developing goals that can be used to track movement toward policy and programming goals with students and partner organizations
  • Honoring community organizations and social movements and establishing partnerships to work toward educational justice and equity
  • Emphasizing and creating “deliberate mechanisms” to ensure that policy initiatives focus on transferring knowledge while also continuing to sustain and build upon existing efforts

Watch a video about East Side Union HSD and the case study here.