Back to school is a busy time for most families, and we are no different here at Public Advocates. The past month has been a tornado of activity for our education attorneys. For the second year in a row, Public Advocates teamed up with the statewide grassroots organization Californians for Justice (CFJ) to bring students and parents together to ensure that school districts are properly spending money intended for California’s neediest students.Public Advocates took a deep dive into the spending and education plans called LCAPs (Local Control Accountability Plans) in 6 school districts: Fresno Unified, Long Beach Unified, Oakland Unified, and East Side Union High School, Alum Rock Elementary and Franklin-McKinley Elementary in San Jose. For each district, Public Advocates produced written summaries concerning community engagement, how the district invests its funds and measures the effectiveness of that investment. Most importantly, we probed how school districts are spending the special funds they receive to impact students who are low-income, learning English or foster youth.In the span of 12 days, CFJ partnered with local community organizations and Public Advocates across four cities to host “LCAP Community Review Days” for students, parents and community to review and grade their local plans. In the next month CFJ will be compiling the results to produce its second round of LCAP Community Report Cards.Check out the highlights from each city below and our full summaries and analysis here. Stay tuned as well for updates on best practices and lessons learned from our statewide analysis of district spending plans.
In San Jose, Public Advocates fellow Angela Perry huddled with a group of high school students who had strong concerns that the East Side Union High School District didn’t actively engage students. If they hadn’t been a part of a student leadership organization like CFJ, they wouldn’t have known they had a right to participate in determining how the district is spending money. Angela was especially impressed with her co-facilitator Ruth, a CFJ student leader, who was already strategizing about how students could push the district to improve its plan.
In addition to CFJ students, parents from SOMOS Mayfair and People Acting in Community Together (PACT) also turned out to review the Alum Rock Elementary and Franklin-McKinley school districts’ spending plans with help from staff organizers and Public Advocates attorneys Rigel Massaro and Angelica Jongco.
“There was a great energy buzzing through the CFJ Long Beach office as community members reviewed the district’s LCAP,” said Managing Attorney John Affeldt about the LCAP review day on September 10th. “I was impressed with the diversity of the turnout from students and parents to teachers and community members. I particularly appreciated that monolingual Spanish-speakers were included in the discussion and review as equal partners. This is how districts should manage LCAP engagement!” Along with CFJ, Children’s Defense Fund, Building Healthy Communities Long Beach Parent Organizing Workgroup and Latinos in Action co-sponsored the event.
Public Advocates Director of Legislative & Community Affairs Liz Guillen recalls how emphatically mothers of English learners protested the constant teacher churn in their children’s classrooms, especially when permanent teachers are being trained during times when the children need them. “Why can’t our teachers get training when our children do not need them in the classroom?” said one parent. This comment provoked a rich discussion between parents and the local teacher’s union president. We need to construct more spaces for such honest exchanges.
In Oakland, a diverse mix of parents, students, educators and district staff showed the potential for change when a school district welcomes partnership with parents, students and community based organizations. OUSD’s Chief Academic Officer Devin Dillon highlighted the impact of this partnership when she recalled how she changed her mind about an item in OUSD’s LCAP because of the input of parents and students in last year’s LCAP process. CFJ, Oakland Community Organizations and Bay Area PLAN (Parent Leadership Action Network) sponsored the event.
In a small group discussion about actions and spending in the LCAP, students, parents and district staff shared their diverse experiences with restorative justice as a strategy to reduce suspensions and give students and adults tools to manage conflict. As we went around our circle, I was struck by how rarely we sit in spaces where we get to hear candid feedback from such a variety of perspectives on an education strategy. These are the dialogues we hope to see more of as the culture change ushered in by the new school funding law takes effect. With Oakland Unified’s expanded investments in family and student leadership development, I am hopeful that one day these discussions will be commonplace at schools throughout the district.