Valley Voices

Zachary D. Darrah: More funds should lead to better results for students

Itzel Garcia, left, of Roosevelt High School reads a book while being tutored by Martha Fregoso at the Boys & Girls Club in Fresno. Garcia was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, and is an English learner and is getting tutoring help for her English class finals from Reading and Beyond tutors.
Itzel Garcia, left, of Roosevelt High School reads a book while being tutored by Martha Fregoso at the Boys & Girls Club in Fresno. Garcia was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, and is an English learner and is getting tutoring help for her English class finals from Reading and Beyond tutors.

The Local Control Funding Formula is a state law that changes the way our schools are funded, and it is designed to make sure that schools and students with less money are going to receive more.

Sounds simple, right? But it’s not. More money is a good thing, but is it going to the right places and benefiting students, as the law requires?

According to the law, school districts across the state need to make sure that the LCFF helps three key groups of students: children in foster care, English language learners and economically disadvantaged youths.

The Fresno Bee recently reported that the California Department of Education has released the results of the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments, which used the new Common Core-aligned content standards for English language arts/literacy and math.

According to the assessment, English language learners at Fresno Unified School District scored the lowest. Just 2 percent of students met the English standards and only 3 percent met the math standard. These are staggering numbers and should be disturbing to our community. Furthermore, The Bee also reports that only 2 percent of its students are considered college ready. This data comes from the latest results from the Early Assessment Program and shows an apparent decline from 2011, when Fresno Unified had 1 percent ready for college English and only 4 percent for math.

The Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments is a new test and Common Core is also something new. However, thanks to the LCFF, Fresno Unified has more resources than ever before to help students improve quickly. Something is not working.

The California State Board of Education recently released a document that states, “With rising state revenues the 2015-16 state budget signed by the governor allocates $53 billion this coming year. This provides an increase of $6 billion to support the continued implementation of LCFF and build upon the investment of over $6 billion provided over the last two years. As a result, the reinvestment provides an opportunity to correct historical inequities and implement the formula well ahead of schedule.”

My organization, Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries, is partnering with other groups like Reading and Beyond, Parent Institute For Quality Education and Fresno Building Healthy Communities to work with the school district to use the LCFF wisely and correctly for students and their families.

Together, we’ve had some success. We talked to hundreds of students, parents and guardians and they all want to be genuinely included in the education process. So with our urging, Fresno Unified allocated $2.5 million of LCFF money to invest in school liaisons and bilingual staff.

Fresno Unified also agreed to pilot a “community connector” program at each city high school to work with liaisons to build bridges between students, families and schools. Community connectors will support school liaisons to prevent problems before they start, because a community connector is someone who works with families and students, someone who is on their side. Together, liaisons and community connectors, will represent a welcoming environment, provide quality translation, respect cultures and remove barriers to communication.

It is a fact: When parents and families are effectively included in their child’s education, that child will achieve and succeed. Families, students and schools also need a clear direction forward. For this reason, we also asked Fresno Unified to update the English Learner Master Plan and the district agreed. They recognize that a plan will help provide the guidance necessary to implement consistent, effective systems and instructional practices that will support learning for all English-learner students.

Finally, we asked the district to provide transparency on the allocation of supplemental and concentrated funds, which comprise the LCFF. The district developed a report that identifies how the funding is being used, and test scores are a clear reason for concern.

While the district has adopted some of the ideas that we offered based on our findings, we still need to make sure these recommendations become implementations. More liaisons and bilingual staff need to be hired; the community connector pilot needs to begin, the district needs to put clear metrics in place to ensure the effectiveness of these ideas, the English learner plan needs to be written with input from the community and we must follow the money.

We have made some steps in the right direction, but giant leaps are necessary if we are going to see Fresno’s students thrive throughout the district. Education is arguably the best investment we can make. Let’s use the money wisely to help create one healthy Fresno!

Zachary D. Darrah is executive director of Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries. Write to him at

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