What We’re Watching in California Education – April 2021

Welcome to the second edition of What We’re Watching in California Education, a newsletter we hope will offer you insight into public education conversations happening at our state Capitol.  

Here are the toplines: 

Money, Money, Money: A flood of COVID-related one-time funding  over $30 billion in all  is making its way into California schools from both the state and federal governments. 

Making Financial Aid Completion Mandatory: No more leaving millions of dollars on the table! Governor Newsom proposes making FAFSA and California Dream Act Application completion mandatory for high school seniors, starting next school year.  

LCFF Reform, Redux: Continuing last year’s fight to close key school funding loopholes, Governor Newsom proposes eliminating LCFF carryover language in his 21-22 budget and Asm. Quirk-Silva introduces two bills to improve transparency and accountability for LCFF funding. 

Money, Money, Money
The American Rescue Plan is the third federal stimulus package passed since the start of the pandemic. In all, California schools will receive a total of $26.4 billion from these three bills to help address COVID-related learning loss and support school reopening. Most of this funding will be distributed based on the formulas that drive Title I dollars to districts, generally meaning that districts with higher proportions of low-income students — like Fresno, Oakland, and West Contra Costa — will receive a greater share of this funding.

All in all, this is an enormous infusion of cash into California’s schools, which have long been strapped for funding. Additionally, schools are likely to receive even more one-time funding from the state in the 2021-22 budget as tax revenues continue to come in higher than expected. We’ll be watching the conversation in Sacramento to see how high the one-time funding figure actually gets and, in our local regions, GO’s networks will be advocating for that money to be used as effectively as possible to drive impact for students.

Making Financial Aid Completion Mandatory
In May of 2019, GO travelled to the state Capitol with Family Leaders, community members, and staff from our Oakland, West Contra Costa, and Fresno teams to show support for Assembly Bill 1617 (authored by Assemblywoman Eloise G. Reyes and sponsored by The Education Trust-West). Had it passed, AB 1617 would have made the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the California Dream Act Application (CADAA) a high school graduation requirement for California’s public school students. 

This year, we’re excited to support Governor Newsom’s new proposal that, if passed, would require local school districts to ensure that all high school seniors (who do not qualify for an opt-out) successfully complete either the FAFSA or CADAA, starting next school year.  

The research on the correlation between financial aid completion rates and college enrollment is clear: 90 percent of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA matriculate to college, compared to the 55 percent who do not complete the FAFSA. California’s own Val Verde Unified School District instituted financial aid completion as a graduation requirement in 2017, and in the first year of implementation, saw an impressive 14 percentage point increase in FAFSA and CADAA completion rates.  

LCFF Reform, Redux
Last year, Asms. Shirley Weber and Sharon Quirk-Silva introduced AB 1835 to close critical loopholes in California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), including a loophole that allows districts to spend money intended for English Learners and low-income students on other student groups if they carry it over to future fiscal years. AB 1835 sailed through the legislature, but was vetoed by Gavin Newsom, who stated in his veto message that these loopholes could be better addressed through the budget process. He has used this proposed budget to address the carryover loophole, but there’s still more work to be done.

While Dr. Weber has moved on to her new role as California’s Secretary of State, Asm. Quirk-Silva is continuing this critical work, and has introduced two bills that will improve LCFF:

  • AB 531 will require that all supplemental and concentration funds are actually spent to improve services for English Learners, low-income students, and foster youth, rather than allowing for “qualitative improvements” to offset some of this actual spending.
  • AB 533 will create clearer legislative guidance for the ongoing development of a Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) portal, which will help to collect information from districts across the state on their LCFF spending and improve transparency and accountability. 

In Community, 

Darcel Sanders, Interim CEO

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