President’s Message: Investing in student success with transparency and accountability

By CSBA President Xilonin Cruz-Gonzalez

January is School Board Recognition Month, a time to appreciate district and county office trustees and the special obligation we have as stewards of America’s greatest public trust — its public school system. As we reflect on our unique role, we would do well to remember what hangs in the balance. More than six million California students are counting on us to provide each and every one of them with a high-quality education.

This may seem like a daunting task at a time when an education funding crisis forces us to do more with less. Those constraints, however, don’t excuse us from our duty to use good governance and sound policy to facilitate student success. As CSBA’s mission statement notes, “strong local boards of education are essential to ensure a high-quality education for every student in every community.”

Currently, our willingness and capacity to uphold this responsibility are under question in some quarters. We should take this as a challenge to reaffirm our commitment to all students, to embrace reasonable transparency measures and to prove we are good stewards of public monies who can be entrusted with Full and Fair Funding.

Some of you may have read or heard about the State Auditor’s report from fall 2019, “K-12 Local Control Funding,” in which State Auditor Elaine Howle determined that funds from the Local Control Funding Formula are not always supporting the high-need students for which they are intended. In fact, the subtitle of that report blared that, “The State’s Approach Has Not Ensured That Significant Funding is Benefiting Students as Intended to Close Achievement Gaps.”

The Auditor’s report generated a wave of media attention and, less than a week into the start of the 2020–21 legislative session, has already inspired new legislation. Assembly Bills 1834 and 1835 are designed to bring additional accountability to LCFF and the Local Control and Accountability Plan process, both in terms of ensuring that money benefits the intended students and that the reporting process for how that money is spent is accessible to the school community. The devil is always in the details, but provided these requirements are not overly prescriptive and are accompanied by resources and support that would allow for proper implementation, these are welcome recommendations.

Yes, additional accountability requires more work, but it is work that aligns with our mission as trustees. It is work that benefits our students and our communities. When the Getting Down to Facts II research series says the state needs to invest an additional $26 billion annually in preK-12 schools just to educate every student to the state standards, we can’t afford to give our adversaries any opening.

As school trustees, we must remain ever vigilant and recognize that our handling of public funds, and the way in which we communicate our use of those funds, will receive unprecedented scrutiny in the current year. We can treat this reality as an attack or use it as an opportunity to refine our practice. I suggest the latter. As we move deeper into this calendar year and the budget and LCAP planning processes, let’s ensure that the LCAP development process includes authentic stakeholder engagement and a thoughtful evaluation of the effectiveness of current actions and services. Let’s be clear and consistent about how we are investing resources for the benefit of students and transparent in demonstrating that these investments align with our values, mission and priorities.

At its core, the goal of LCFF was to couple local flexibility with the addition of more resources directed toward the students with the highest need so all students have a chance at success. The law is far from perfect in that regard, and the overall pool of resources is woefully insufficient. That’s all the more reason we should be judicious about every dollar we currently receive while we fight for the Full and Fair Funding required for every student to thrive in college, career and civic life.