They came in buses from across the state to Sacramento to march to the headquarters of the California Department of Education. They carried signs that read "Improve Then Approve" and "Close the Loophole." They chanted. They prepared handwritten testimony.
More than 100 high school students and their parents sat through hours of presentations and testimony by an overflow crowd at Thursday's Board of Education meeting. Arcane acronyms were bandied about: LEA, SBE, CDE, OAL, LCAP, LCFF, ELL.
The bureaucratese was incomprehensible. But students knew exactly why they were there: to make sure that rules drawn to implement the state's new funding formula don't dilute the impact of funds intended to improve academic achievement of disadvantaged kids.
One student marveled that between November and January, their ideas had been consolidated into the revised draft.
"We feel heard and validated," she said, a sentiment that other students applauded.
Among the 400 people who signed up to testify, the lines were drawn between two groups.
Assembly Member Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, who was born to sharecroppers in Arkansas and went on to become a professor at San Diego State University, cautioned against diluting funding for disadvantaged kids by spreading it across districtwide programs.
For their part, school district superintendents, school board members and their statewide organizations lined up to support spending flexibility. Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy described this as a matter of "confidence in local leadership."
State board member Sue Burr acknowledged that the board would have to find ways to address remaining concerns: tightening up the use of funds targeted for disadvantaged kids on districtwide programs; defining "effective" when directing districts to make the "most effective" use of funds to meet their goals for disadvantaged students; and strengthening oversight of district spending by county offices of education to ensure that dollars actually go toward improving academic achievement of disadvantaged kids.
Unfortunately, in the end, the state board took no action on those items. That pushes the task to the future, and puts the onus on parents and watchdog groups to monitor school districts.
Still, the students' sincere interest was heartening and speaks to the elegance of the new funding system. As Jannelle Kubinec of WestEd said, the new funding formula takes California from being a state with one of the most complicated education funding systems to being among those with the most simple.
The students missed school to come to the capital, but they got an education in civic engagement that will last a lifetime.
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