The Gatekeeepers of Education

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Students at Paramount Elementary School in their newly renovated library. Photo: Kelyn Struiksma

Although the drought is begging for much of California residents’ attention, changes and implementations within the state’s education department have been making quite an impression.

Education in California was dramatically changed in July of 2013 in regards to school district funding. This new finance system, Local Control Funding Formula, now gives districts increased funds and supplemental grants intended to support the needs of low-income students, English learners and fostered youth. After only a year a half with the new financial changes, the state demanded an accountability plan from every district at the start of this school year.

Schools across the state are seeing measurable progress in the achievement of students after just one year of implementing accountability, particularly in the city of Azusa.

Achievement gap on a national level

As students of color approximate half of the national public school population, new efforts are working to provide these students the resources and funds necessary to give an equal opportunity along with children who are fostered youth or come from low-income families.

The Education Trust recently released a 2015 Funding Gaps Report, which concluded that nationally, “Too many states still spend less on educating students who need the most attention.”

Allison Horowitz, a K-12 policy analyst for The Education Trust, tracks national and international data on achievement and opportunity and works to narrow the gap. Although achievement is higher now that it has ever been, the gaps are still far too wide and education is nowhere near where it needs to be, explained Horowitz.

“We face a lot of challenges and children only get one chance at an education,” Horowitz said. “It’s hard work to make sure that we are giving every child an opportunity to be successful in life.”

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Courtesy of The Education Trust

This 2015 funding report, based off the most recent data published from 2012, shows how 61 percent of California schools non-federal funding comes from the state. Further, districts that are serving the most students with color receive about 6% or $587 more per student from the state than districts that don’t and “the highest poverty districts receive $4,004 or 106 percent more, in state revenues per student than the lowest poverty districts.”

For Horowitz, the biggest challenge with California’s new funding standards is tracking what happens to the money once it goes down to the districts and how it is actually impacting students’ educational experiences.

Education and the State of California

The Education Trust is split into different branches and its West branch is equity-driven, data-centered and student focused, advocating “for educational justice and the high academic achievement of all California students, particular those of color and living in poverty.” Much of the work done by The Education Trust-West is analyzing data and policies from California’s Department of Education.

“The achievement gap isn’t particular to California – it exists in every state – but what is particular to California is the sheer number of students our education department serves,” explained Educational Trust-West’s Executive Director Ryan Smith and Communications Manager Jelena Hasbrouck, confirming the 6.2 million students in the state’s K-12 public schools.

California currently serves 1.4 million English learners, which is more than any other state in the country, accounting for nearly a third of all English learning students in the U.S. To help address this issue, earlier this month Governor Jerry Brown appointed Feliza Ortiz-Licon as an English Learner advocate to the State Board of Education, who also serves as the senior director of K-16 education for the national council of La Raza.  

Governor Jerry Brown’s 2015-16 Budget Summary shows how funding levels will increase by $2,600 per student from the last recorded numbers established in 2011-12. The estimated total of $47,173 million for next year’s K-12 education will be over 40 percent of the state’s available funds.

The Local Control Funding Formula implementation by Brown will adjust the base grant amount for K-3rd grade by 10.4 perfect and there will be a 2.6 percent increase for high school age students, according to the California Department of Education. At full implementation, each county will be given $655,920 and each district should receive a minimum of $109,320 in funding from just LCFF alone.

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Photo: Kelyn Struiksma

In addition to this base, there will be supplemental and concentration grants for districts that educate more than 20 percent of students who are English learners and in foster care.

In a press release from the Education Trust-West this past January, Smith explained how the $4 billion in the LCFF is a turning point for education equality. However, it will take nearly a decade until districts see the entirety of its funds.

The LCFF effecting the Azusa Unified School District

Azusa Unified School District currently provides education for a daily average of 9,251 students in its 11 elementary, three middle and three high schools. According to LCAP Watch, 85 percent of Azusa students are categorized as high-need.

The 2014-15 AUSD Budget claims that the district received a total revenue funding of $95,527,503, which includes $75,833,730 in LCFF funds.

Arturo Ortega, assistant superintendent of education services at the AUSD, explains how the LCFF provides a new mechanism for English learning students, fostered youth and low-income students to help and reduce the achievement gap that is prevalent in Azusa.

Since 2010, The Education Trust-West has released district report cards which grades districts on performance, improvement, gaps and college-readiness. Most districts in the state receive Cs and Ds on their report cards, which suggests the need to enforce a stronger emphasis on improving outcomes of low-income students and students of color.

AUSD over the past four years has seen an improvement as in 2010, it received a C and currently is graded at a C+ from 2013 data. Neighboring Azusa, Glendora Unified School District with a higher educational reputation recorded a C+ in 2010 and have since improved to a B-, matching the same progress as AUSD.

Implementing a Local Control Accountability Plan

“The LCAP is the accountability piece of the LCFF,” said Ortega, explaining how the plan is revised annually.

The process of determining the LCAP is based on a four-step process by parents, students, educators, city leaders and stakeholders: inform, consult, plan, adopt. The priorities of the LCAP is to provide basic services, implement state standards, encourage parental engagement, seek student achievement, adapt to school climate, obtain access to courses and determine measurable student outcomes and goals.

AUSD has established five goals with the implementation of the LCAP: Increase student achievement; increase English learners’ academic language development; Increase all students’ college and career readiness; increase parent and student leadership; and, improve district facilities, transportation and nutrition.

“We are doing well with our LCAP,” said Ortega. “There are areas that we need to improve on, but overall we have implemented some great programs, some great professional development, broader courses and support.”

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English Learning classes are being changed and adapted due to the district’s new funding. Photo: Kelyn Struiksma

The schools within the district are given a certain power to determine where these increased funds will go and so far, finances have primarily purchased new learning material to align with the Common Core standards and English learning departments.

Azusa High School is particularly interested in using its increased funding to help support its new program “English 3-D,” said Ramiro Rubalcaba, principal at Azusa High School.

This new program specializes in innovation, giving students a double-dose of English during the school day, instead of an after-school tutoring program. Rubalcaba claims that Azusa High’s classification rates tripled from last year due to the increased attention given to this program and sending more students to college and enrichment fairs.

The United States Department of Education recently released a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, which found that the national graduation rate is 81 percent as California holds an 82 percentage. Azusa High School currently holds a 92 percent graduation rate, according to Rubalcaba.

Common Core help’s AUSD

California’s Board of Education adopted the Common Core in 2010. However, California is just about to end its first school year with the curriculum’s full implementation.

Ortega explains how the district is seeing a constant improvement in student achievement and how the Common Core is a “game changer,” at least in the state of California.

To Rubalcaba, the Common Core requires getting educators trained by switching mindsets and changing routines. The new educational plan focuses more on writing, collaborating, persuading and arguing points.

As much of a challenge it has been to implement new testing and curriculum, Rubalcaba has seen it as a positive change due to the investment in resources, renovation of computer labs and updating of technology particularly in high-need areas such as Azusa.

Community and Parent Involvement

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Azusa Unified School District seeks to increase parent involvement and parents at Paramount Elementary are encouraged to sign in and walk their children to their classrooms. Photo: Kelyn Struiksma

Often Brown’s new financial plan is defined as adequate and equitable funding, which Robert Allard, principal at Paramount Elementary in Azusa, defines it “simply doing what is right.”

According to Allard, Paramount Elementary currently educates 46 to 50 percent of English Learners and 88 to 90 percent who are categorized under Free and Reduced Lunch, being economically disadvantaged. These statistics seen at Paramount Elementary fall among the averages of the Azusa Unified School District percentages.

The lack of experiences is what primarily makes Azusa students disadvantaged and these funds will give opportunities to students that most children have had their entire life, said Allard.

One of the major challenges currently being faced is parental involvement. According to Allard, often parents in the district have not had the opportunity for a higher education and do not know how to navigate academic achievement and the level of involvement needed.

Joe Rocha, Mayor of Azusa, works closely with all five of the Azusa School Board members and believes that including parents as well as the community is essential in making a difference.

“By working as a community we can get much more done, instead of working separately,” said Rocha.

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Community programs such as CHAMP are intended to invest in the lives of students, showing significance and excitement for education. Photo: Kelyn Struiksma

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