In 2013, largely because of more than a decade of student and parent organizing across the state, the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) was signed into California law, marking an important development in the fight for equity in educational funding. 

In a departure from California’s long-standing method of resource allocation from categorical funding to a block grant, LCFF would utilize a weighted formula to allocate resources to districts based on the number of low-income students, foster youth and English Learners they serve. LCFF was designed to provide districts with more flexibility, and, consequently, increased opportunities to conduct transformational and equity-oriented work. Another goal of LCFF was to ensure that the voices of the district’s stakeholders, including students, guided the strategic use of state resources in the development of Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAP), a three-year plan that describes the goals, actions, services, and expenditures to support positive student outcomes that address state and local priorities (California Department of Education, 2013). 

Almost 9 years after its implementation, numerous studies have begun to explore the impact of the LCFF (Humphrey et al., 2017), LCAP (Olsen et al., 2017), and the multiple lessons about educational policy and practice derived from LCFF (Koppich & Humphrey, 2018). Simultaneously, we have seen a rise in the visibility and presence of youth leadership in mainstream educational discourse. Phrases like youth empowerment, youth voice, and youth participation have quickly gathered momentum and have continued to become more popular in the discourse around educational change and the implementation of LCFF and LCAP. However, too little is known about how LCFF has shifted cultures, everyday practices, structures, and educational outcomes across the state, especially whether it has empowered young people to take more active roles in influencing and contributing to educational policies and practices.

Most educational stakeholders believe that youth voice and leadership is generally a good idea. However, the character, quality, understanding, and degree of engagement vary significantly across the state. Often muddled by concerns over the value and purpose of including youth voices, educators and policymakers continue to grapple with several questions: 

  • Will student voice improve outcomes? 

  • How can we gauge if efforts to support youth voice, power, and participation are successful? 

  • Will engaging students engender practical and innovative solutions? 

  • Is strengthening youth participation an effective use of our time and resources? 

  • How will this work change the educational experiences of students and adults?

  • How can student voice and power work in unison and support broader educational and racial justice efforts?

This case study explores these questions and offers a detailed account of how one California school district, East Side Union High School District (ESHUSD or “The District”) in San Jose, CA, in partnership with Californians for Justice (CFJ), a youth-led educational justice organization, developed student voice, power, and participation to drive more equitable outcomes to achieve the goals of LCFF. To do so, we explore the complexities of implementing system-wide change and shifting cultures and structures of participation in decision making, which in this case, presented important and consequential challenges and opportunities. In addition, by including the voices and the perspectives of students, families, organizers, teachers, principals, staff members, and school district leaders, we seek to highlight the successes, strengths, impacts, and the challenges that arise from efforts to create systemic and sustainable change.

This research is part of a larger set of case studies conducted by the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools highlighting the work of five districts in California that have sought to improve outcomes for students through LCFF. This effort seeks to understand how school districts are seizing the equity opportunities afforded by LCFF to deepen our understanding of how educational policy is interpreted, enacted, implemented, negotiated, and contested, particularly when young people are meaningfully involved in these processes. Through this work, we aim to inform educators, practitioners, leaders, and policymakers, thus contributing to our understanding of how educational policies, along with their guiding principles and intended impact, can be more successful.

Most of the data collection for this study was conducted in 2019. However, due to the profound impact of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter Uprisings on school communities across the country in 2020, another set of interviews and analysis was added to complete the study.