Summary, Purpose and Audience

Summary

Careful examination of Vision 2020 and the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) at San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) over the last six years has offered new possibilities for incremental, positive change in a large, urban school district. This report identifies a sequence of actions that SDUSD has undertaken under Vision 2020 and LCFF to improve academic outcomes for historically underserved students. The case study shows that the effective use of LCFF funds generates improved outcomes for these students foster youth, homeless students, etc. Some of the evidence of improved outcomes includes: greater A-G College Readiness rates, an increase in Advanced Placement (AP) course participation rates, and an increase in the frequency of reclassification for students learning a second language. While a number of fiscal and implementation challenges remain for SDUSD as the district works towards executing Vision 2020 and to support LCFF implementation, it is clear that progress is being made to support meaningful graduation for students who have not been historically served well by the district.

Purpose and Audience

This case study summarizes the perspectives of various education stakeholders including students, teachers, principals, school board members and district staff, to better understand how SDUSD is operationalizing central aspects of the state’s school funding law, the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). It is intended to inform educators and education system leaders how district practices have changed under the law and to start discerning key elements of educational change in a large, urban school district. The case study also seeks to expand upon limited research that explores the relationship between state policies such as LCFF and changes in district practices.
The potential shortcomings of relying upon initiatives like LCFF as the primary driver for improving education outcomes for low-income students of color, foster youth and English Language Learners have been well documented (LaFortune et al., 2018). The state legislature has not guaranteed that the funds made available to school districts through LCFF will be sustained over time. Hence, a critical issue facing districts like SDUSD is how they will sustain the progress achieved with existing district resources. Research shows that schools are more likely to experience sustained improvement when they stay focused on five essential strategies: adopting a coherent approach to delivering instruction, ongoing development of the professional capacity of staff, developing strong ties with communities and families, a student-centered learning climate, and leadership focused on teaching and learning (Bryk et al., 2010). SDUSD has many of those pillars already in place. LCFF represents just one of many drivers that have been used to shape the way the district prepares students for college and careers. The cumulative impact of new state standards, assessment, and accountability systems at the state and federal level are largely responsible for influencing district practices, more than LCFF. The law has real promise, but also some deficiencies—something we’ll explore further. In this case study, we draw attention to the connection between the flexibility of LCFF, SDUSD’s Vision 2020 plan and its ambitious district-wide agenda for improving academic outcomes.