Accountability For Learning Loss

California’s 2022-23 education budget proposes to increase the Local Control Funding Formula base grant by 10% and will provide $22,850 per student (which labor unions will spin into $16,991 by only recognizing Proposition 98 funding), a record high, yet we lack meaningful visibility into the specific services these funds provide and the quality of outcomes produced for students.

Learning loss due to school closures and remote learning has cost students several months of academic progress, and poorer students have fared the worst. While $5,334,997,000 of State and Federal CARES Act dollars were already earmarked for local education agencies in the 20-21 budget to conduct Learning Loss Mitigation, CDE still has only a placeholder for an ‘Expenditure Report’ to evaluate the $5,060,248,000 actually spent for these grants, and there are no further funds appropriated specifically for learning loss mitigation.

Rather, the May Revision’s Education Budget increased the Expanded Learning Opportunities Program (pages 2-3) by $403 million, bringing the ongoing program total to $4.8 billion. This translates to $2,500 for every low-income student, English language learner and foster youth. In addition, the budget proposes $8 billion in per-pupil discretionary grants. Based on current attendance estimates, each school district, county office of education, and charter school would receive nearly $1,500 per student.

ELOP funds are restricted by EdCode Section 8482.3(c)(1)(A–B) to be spent on tutoring, homework assistance and extracurricular enrichment activities while the discretionary grants can be used for staffing, programs, operational costs or student mental health.

Does it make sense to emphasize discretionary spending when we know that direct tutoring has demonstrated greater effectiveness to catch kids up to grade level following the learning losses of the last few years? How much of the billions of dollars in learning loss mitigation grants were spent on proven interventions like direct tutoring vs. operational costs or other non-student focused programs?

Given the huge increase in education funding and the critical state our students find themselves in post Covid, oversight and accountability has never been more important. This is why one of our education priorities this session is to pass SB 3 and appropriate a very modest $3 million to digitize and modernize Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) reporting so that instead of digging through hundreds of pages of PDFs to understand local education spending, we could monitor and compare spending and outcomes across districts with a few clicks. This will be even more vital when the state runs up to the inevitable fiscal cliff that 2022-23’s extraordinarily large and ambitious budget will invite when (not if) revenues decline precipitously during an extended market decline.