New research shows that California’s overhaul of public education finance and accountability is narrowing achievement gaps among groups of students and helping parents learn about school progress.
The Learning Policy Institute this month released “Money and Freedom: The Impact of California’s School Finance Reform,” a study by researcher Sean Tanner and UC Berkeley professor Rucker Johnson. The authors examined the impact of the landmark Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which gave school districts greater control over the use of state funds in exchange for greater accountability and parent engagement at the local level. LCFF, which was approved in 2013, also increased funding to districts that serve students needing extra support.
The authors found that LCFF “led to significant increases in high school graduation rates and academic achievement, particularly among children from low-income families.” Students in the highest poverty districts showed greater academic gains, the authors reported. The study also found that LCFF funding was used to improve classroom learning by lowering student-to-teacher ratios and helping districts recruit and train new teachers.
“Money targeted to students’ needs can make a significant difference in outcomes and narrow achievement gaps,” the study concludes. “Money matters.”
State Board of Education President Michael Kirst said the study covers more years of research—and uses more recent data—than other studies on LCFF’s impact, making it more relevant to decision-making.
“We still have work to do, and this research is very encouraging,” Kirst said.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson agreed.
“These results show clear progress for our ambitious plan for improving education,” Torlakson said. “This includes increasing investment, expanding local control and giving greater resources to those with the greatest needs.”