Historically, Black and Indigenous students have been among the student groups who struggle academically on state performance measures and need more support, but they are yet to be included in direct funding and supports. This continues to be the case despite this year marking the 10th anniversary of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which aims to make state funding of school districts more flexible and aligned with equity. Earlier this year, there were a host of conversations among educators and advocates, including a Water Cooler “table talk” that reflected on the progress and shortcomings of the LCFF. Key conversations centered on LCFF’s approach to reset California’s funding model and how it allocates dollars based on targeted student groups. Moreover, discussions reflected on how the policy has fallen short in distributing dollars to high-need schools across the state. Leading up to the 10th anniversary, advocates, local groups, and elected officials uplifted opportunities to strengthen the LCFF to live into the vision of equity for all students, including Black and Indigenous students.
To strengthen LCFF’s ability to directly reach students in high-need communities, Governor Newsom offered his own proposal this year – the Equity Multiplier. The Equity Multiplier aims to provide additional funding to high-need schools to close achievement and opportunity gaps. In its first iteration, the policy proposed allocating funds to local educational agencies based on the proportion of students who qualify for free meals under the federal National School Lunch Program: 90 percent for elementary and middle schools and 85 percent for high schools. This proposal raised various equity issues. Critiques centered on the missed opportunity for California to strengthen LCFF to address the issues that have been elevated in the past to direct funds to high-need communities, specifically to ensure Black students receive the resources they need to succeed. There were also concerns about the proposed method—the formula used a single indicator as the only data point, rather than a comprehensive set of indicators that also captures student performance and community data to identify highest-need students (which would include Black students) across the state. Lastly, the field questioned the effectiveness of adding yet another funding initiative amidst the myriad that already exists to deepen equity at the local level.
Analysis of the January Equity Multiplier proposal showed that eligible schools under the free meal eligibility threshold only captured about 7 percent of Black students across the state and an even smaller share of American Indian/Alaska Native students. Yet, both are among the lowest-performing student groups in California that are currently not targeted by LCFF. Advocates and educators offered alternative proposals, and coalitions mobilized students, families, and educators to raise awareness and push the administration to do more for Black students and families. They proposed modifying the formula to capture a larger percentage of Black students and use a set of student performance and community data that provides a holistic context on what impacts learning. Examples such as the Student Equity Need Index (SENI) at the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) were elevated as potential funding models because they demonstrate a more robust, more holistic approach to funding school sites so that they have the additional resources to fully support students.
What was adopted in the Equity Multiplier and how will it work?
The Administration made changes to the Equity Multiplier proposal based on recommendations submitted by education advocates. It was officially adopted in June 2023 and resulted in an investment of a $300 million add-on to LCFF using a formula to identify high-need schools across the state. The two school selection criteria are:
- Stability rates 75 percent or less of the school population at the beginning of the year. (The stability rate is a California Department of Education metric that measures student turnover by calculating the percentage of students who do not complete more than approximately two-thirds of the school year); and
- Socioeconomically disadvantaged pupil rates of greater than 70 percent.
These criteria more than doubled the proportion of Black students in the state (from 7 percent to 15 percent) who are in schools that will receive Equity Multiplier funding. Eligible school sites will receive a minimum of $50,000 a year, and they are to use the funds for evidence-based services and supplement—not supplant—existing funding. In addition, school sites that receive this funding shall develop one or more focused goals to track accountability for improved school site performance and funding transparency.
What did this mean and where do we go from here?
It will be imperative to fully evaluate the impact of the Equity Multiplier and its two eligibility criteria, the students it reaches, and the students experiencing significant needs who remain outside of its scope, so that we can better understand how to support them. In particular, we need to assess whether stability rate data as proposed by the UCLA Center for the Transformational Schools, which leads research on school stability and its relationship with schools containing a high percentage of Black students—can be used as a measure for other initiatives that aim to further the state’s ability to understand and close persisting equity gaps.
Although the Equity Multiplier is one approach to direct funding for high-need students, education advocates recognize the need to address equity concerns within LCFF to support high-need schools to close opportunity gaps at a larger scale. The state can adopt best practices and lessons learned from local solutions like the SENI, which is approaching its tenth anniversary in 2024 and has demonstrated success in distributing resources to highest-need schools while seeking to align with LCFF's equity goals.