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School Funding Audit Confirms Critics’ Fears

Sherman Elementary School students in a dual-language immersion class practice their reading skills. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

This post originally appeared in the Nov. 8 Sacramento Report [1]. Get the Sacramento Report delivered to your inbox [2].

A longstanding critique of the state’s system for funding schools, the Local Control Funding Formula, is that it’s impossible to tell [3] whether funds specifically targeted to helping the most vulnerable students are actually being spent on those students.

A new state audit that examined San Diego Unified’s LCFF spending [4] has the answer: They’re not.

From the audit:

We observed that districts used supplemental and concentration funds to pay for what appear to be base services. For instance, San Diego Unified budgeted $5.2 million in supplemental and concentration funds for library services at all schools within the district. It justified the expenditure by mentioning that such services create equitable access to learning tools, resources, materials, and technology. … Although we recognize the benefits of base services and the dilemma districts face when they lack the funding necessary to pay for them, this description fails to sufficiently explain how San Diego Unified principally directed these services toward intended student groups.

In a memo responding to the audit, the district’s chief public information officer, Andrew Sharp, said the funds are working as intended because outcomes for disadvantaged students in the district have improved. He also wrote that the audit is “already moot” because it examined the district’s use of 2017-2018 funds, and not the most current plan.

The audit did find areas in which San Diego Unified went beyond state requirements, including when it identified $3 million in unspent funds from the 2017-2018 plan and included that amount with the funding identified in its 2018–19 plan.

Last month, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, who’s long critiqued the funding model’s lack of transparency, told us she plans to tackle reforms to the system [5] in the next legislative session. The audit has only driven home the need for those reforms, she said.

“There’s additional funding going into the schools and then they turn around and throw it into the base grant and don’t do programs they can be accountable for,” Weber told KPBS. “And we still have these kids failing. That is unacceptable.”