In the early weeks of the new year, California's public schools were given a fiscal and programmatic boost. On January 9th Governor Brown presented his proposed 2014-2015 budget, revealing a number of encouraging monetary moves for the State's public education system. Just a few days later the California State School Board finally made some progress in the implementation of California's new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), making available funding allocation guidelines and the templates meant to help school districts create their required Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAP). These two developments together signal a much awaited move towards positive change for our schools in contrast to the past vigilant focus on simply protecting what is already in place.

According to the K-12 budget summary document, the Governor's budget proposal includes a $6.3 billion increase in the Proposition 98 guaranteed minimum funding for schools, bringing the total to $61.6 billion or just under $9,200 per pupil on average. This figure gets somewhat more complicated by the new LCFF funding strategies, which weights funding based on the costs required to meet educational needs that vary for certain groups of students. Under LCFF allocations, this budget proposes a base funding amount of $7,829 per student. In order to meet LCFF's goal of improving educational equity, that base amount will get increased by 20% for students in target groups—English learners, low-income kids, and kids in foster care. On top of that, districts with student populations greater than 55% in those target groups will get an additional supplement of up to 22.5% of their based grant.

Almost more stunning than the increased baseline funding levels, deferred payments of past Proposition 98 minimum guarantees will finally be made. Approximately $6.4 billion will be sent to school districts and community colleges to make up for money held back during the Great Recession. According to the summary, during that period of economic decline those deferrals reached to almost 20 percent of the payments due to schools. This is excellent news for the future, but of course receiving the money now will not make up for the costs incurred by our students when programs and services had to be cut.

For those wanting an even more concise overview of Governor Brown's budget proposal than the official budget summary, the California Budget Project (CBP) has created an excellent document that includes highlights of the education related components. Among the items CBP pulls out is Brown's proposal to revamp California's rainy day fund, which includes a specific Proposition 98 reserve. This strategy would presumably prevent the state from forcing schools to swallow the type of huge deferments that are just now being repaid.

Almost as though it were a tag team effort, soon after the Governor announced his proposed budget with the updated funding levels and strategies as required by LCFF, the State Board of Education made its move. They finally unveiled the guidelines for distributing those funds and the templates for districts to use as they create plans demonstrating how the money was used and how they are helping the community to participate in those plans and thereby ensure (or at least strive for) community-based accountability.

While it’s good to see progress being made, the results are not particularly impressive. There are no tools here that are going to help communities in their accountability roles and the guidelines remain as disturbingly elastic as they were in the draft regulations presented at the end of last year, to which scores of organizations offered critiques. What is now becoming unfortunately symbolic, WestEd, the organization meant to help the state implement LCFF, has yet to update its LCFF specific website with the latest documentation about the guidelines or the templates, an oversight that is hard to explain. By contrast EdSource, an independent education resource center, has an excellent LCFF Guide with links to resources on and analysis of various LCFF components. Of special note are a page allowing the comparison of LCFF funding for any two districts and two excellent articles about the template (one before the State Board meeting and one after the meeting) that astonishingly may be the only major resource so far including a link to the actual template itself.

The LCAP report template lists the priorities the state has set for districts, for example student achievement, which is defined by things such as the availability of a broad selection of classes and of course, performance on standardized tests. The latter is a confusing one to think about meeting at the moment, since California is suspending the majority of standardized tests right now since the state is in the middle of transitioning to the Common Core State Standards for classroom instruction and the related assessments are still in development.

One priority that many parents have been pushing on is stakeholder inclusion. The template includes “Guiding Questions” that are clearly designed to help structure programs for stakeholder inclusion as well as help with the evaluation of the success of those efforts. Some of these are quite good, for instance, Guiding Question 3: “What information (e.g., quantitative and qualitative data/metrics) was made available to stakeholders related to the state priorities and used by the LEA to inform the LCAP goal setting process?” and the related Question 4: “What changes, if any, were made in the LCAP prior to adoption as a result of written comments or other feedback received by the LEA through any of the LEA’s engagement processes?”

The not-so-sub-subtext is that communities can only be meaningfully engaged if they have the necessary tools and information and that further, there is no point in engagement unless it is going to be taken seriously. Not all feedback must translate into direct changes, but some feedback will and if it doesn't, it means that stakeholders are not being recognized and included as significant participants in the conversation.

An example of this actually exists right now in the required metrics for reporting on one of the state priorities, student engagement. As is so clearly laid out in Figure 8 of the Legislative Analysts Office (LAO) December 18, 2013 LCFF report, all of the indicators of student engagement are quantitative depictions of participation—basically various ways of looking at attendance and graduation rates. Nowhere are there measures designed to develop an understanding of what is working and not working for students in our schools today from their perspective, which is unfortunate, since this is perhaps one of the most important question of all. Knowing the rate at which students are failing to come to school or dropping out only presents the most superficial picture of what is happening, not why it is happening.

This missed opportunity is representative of the weakness of this current effort to change our school system. LCFF is a positive move forward and even trying to develop baseline expectations of plans as expressed in the LCAP template is constructive, but it's maddeningly minimal progress. Throwing over the factory model of education that still so seriously limits the growth of our children requires that we reach more broadly and deeply than we have yet dared.

Lisa Schiff is the parent of two children in the San Francisco Unified School Disrict and is a member of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco.