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After Review of 2020 Pandemic Spending Plans, Education Advocates Call for More Transparency, Accountability, & Services as Some $55B in Federal & State Funds Flow to K12

San Francisco — Several prominent education advocacy organizations released a report today sounding an urgent alarm over the need for increased transparency and public accountability mechanisms in the spending of some $55B in one-time and on-going state and federal funds available to California to spur the recovery of public schools across the state. In 20 recommendations, they also call for increased stakeholder engagement, more services to students with unique needs, re-engagement strategies, consideration of staff allocation and the integration of new practices and technology use into learning, and more. 

The report, co-authored by Children Now, Public Advocates, the National Center for Youth Law and Californians Together presents findings from a review of 48 Learning Continuity & Attendance Plans (LCPs), which were required of school districts, county offices of education and charter schools (Local Education Agencies, LEAs) in the fall of 2020 during the height of the pandemic. The report is titled “How Districts Planned for Pandemic Learning: Equity-Driven Practices and Lessons Learned from 2020 Learning Continuity and Attendance Plans.”

In the report, the organizations urge school districts to learn from their 2020 experiences as they plan for unprecedented amounts of federal and state investments in education.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity to reimagine our schools with transformative investments that can ensure all students will thrive,” said Erin Apte, Legislative Counsel with Public Advocates. “We cannot repeat past mistakes from 2020-21, when districts did not publicly account for billions of dollars in federal and state pandemic relief funds. This left stakeholders, who under the law must be partners in planning, in the dark about how these funds were spent,” added Apte.

School districts across the state are currently developing their Local Control and Accountability Plans (known as LCAPs) to address the pressing needs of California’s 6 million students, some returning to school sites this fall for the first time in more than a year. Many returning students are low-income, English learners, foster youth, and students with disabilities, who are homeless, or incarcerated.

“We reviewed these plans and budgets to get a snapshot of how districts were willing to support some of our most underserved students in California,” said Atasi Uppal, Senior Policy Attorney at the National Center for Youth Law. “We were very concerned to find almost a complete lack of information regarding how districts were going to help youth in the juvenile justice system and youth experiencing homelessness access pandemic-related needs such as stable internet, mental health services and supportive reengagement strategies for those disconnected from school. Districts must make intentional, intensive investments to support these young people during the upcoming school year; they need tailored interventions and services more than ever before.”

The authors of the report identified both promising practices in the 48 LCPs that other districts could emulate, as well as concerning trends, particularly regarding investments and omissions of important information that districts were required to report. For example, most of the plans the authors reviewed did a poor job of clearly showing how LEAs invested the more than $8 billion in pandemic relief they received, in addition to billions in ongoing state funding, including Supplemental and Concentration (“S&C”) funds generated by students in foster care, students in low-income families, and English learners (“high-need students”).

“Students in foster care face so many challenges that can disrupt learning and the pandemic has further exacerbated the situation,” said Danielle Wondra, Senior Policy and Outreach Associate, Child Welfare, for Children Now. “It is imperative that LEAs provide greater details in their plans about the supports they will provide to students in foster care, describe how these services address the specific challenges these students face, and meaningfully consider how the supports they provide are differentiated to meet the unique needs of students in foster care. If they don’t, students in foster care will continue to fall further and further behind,” added Wondra.

Noting that the pandemic is not yet behind us, the authors of the report make a series of recommendations concerning what LEAs should prioritize now as they create their legally-required local spending plans and millions of California students move to in-person learning. They focus on more accountability to ensure funds are spent effectively and the integration of critical services such as mental health promotion, social-emotional learning, peer support, and trauma-informed practices into school and classroom environments.

A full list of the report’s recommendations follows.
Click here for a copy of the report.


RECOMMENDATIONS FROM “How Districts Planned for Pandemic Learning: Equity-Driven Practices and Lessons Learned from 2020 Learning Continuity and Attendance Plans.”

As LEAs plan for the 2021-22 school year, complete their Annual Update and determine their budget decisions, we urge them – and the California Department of Education, which supports and guides them – to consider the following key recommendations to better plan for and support the education of all students, and particularly students with unique needs:

  1.     Engage in more targeted outreach to students and families, particularly reaching out to student groups representing vulnerable populations and families of students with unique needs, during the stakeholder engagement process. Include ample time for multiple opportunities for feedback on LEA plans, and invite feedback in multiple modalities, including through live meetings, focus groups, surveys, feedback forms and other mediums. Promotion of feedback opportunities and all feedback methods should be offered in languages that are representative of families within the LEA.
  2.     Ensure students with unique needs receive priority, early access to additional learning time and in-person individual or small cohort instruction, as soon as available.
  3.     Include more detail on the services provided to students in foster care, including how those services will support their unique needs.
  4.     Provide information on specific strategies to deliver English Language Development to English learners.
  5.     COEs should provide increased, specific information on services and supports for incarcerated youth.
  6.     Highlight how services provided to all students (such as devices and connectivity, reengagement strategies, tutoring and other learning loss mitigation strategies) will be differentiated for students in foster care, students experiencing homelessness, and English learners.
  7.     Provide greater specificity around how LEAs will hire, shift and reallocate staff roles and responsibilities to address the particular challenges that students with unique needs face – for example, staff to provide services, develop emergency distance learning plans and complete reviews and assessments for students with disabilities without delay. Provide a list of staff allocated to support each subgroup of students with unique needs.
  8.     To address the heightened stress and trauma students are experiencing during COVID-19, prioritize and strengthen mental health and wellness in planning, invest in increased access to mental health supports and services, and provide specific details on how LEAs will identify needs, provide school-based services, and ensure connections to additional services during both in-person and remote instruction.
  9.     Integrate mental health promotion, social-emotional learning, peer support, and trauma-informed practices into school and classroom environments, and ensure teachers and staff receive ongoing professional development opportunities to help embed and sustain these practices.
  10. Monitor staff and administrator engagement in general professional development, and ensure a sustainable plan for ongoing professional development and support exists (including but not limited to the use of professional learning communities).
  11. Increase inclusive access to technology and internet connectivity, and invest in added supports for families who need help engaging with technology.
  12. Provide greater detail about assessments to measure learning loss and considerations for specific student groups, and more information about how the LEA will measure the effectiveness of their learning loss mitigation strategies through use of diagnostic tools such as assessments, surveys or attendance data, disaggregated by student group. Such data will help LEAs identify and prioritize subgroups that have experienced instructional loss for delivery of learning loss mitigation strategies and small cohort in-person instruction.
  13. Clearly delineate the synchronous and asynchronous minutes of instruction that students can expect on a daily basis.
  14. Invest in additional supplies and make learning centers available to students who do not have a suitable learning environment in the home.
  15. The state should require LEAs to include detailed tables and appendices in their Annual Update explaining how they used their supplemental and concentration funding, whether or not they provided that detail in their Learning Continuity Plan.
  16. Account in their Annual Update for the use of health and safety expenditures connected to in-person or on-campus instruction if the LEA did not actually reopen.
  17. Provide greater detail when describing staffing expenditures to enable stakeholders to understand whether the funds are covering base salaries or increasing staff time to implement specific programs.
  18. Clearly link the justification for every action in the Summary of Increased/Improved Services for high-need students to the associated goal, action/service description, and expenditure amount.
  19. The state should provide additional training and capacity building to LEAs to improve their understanding of how to demonstrate increased and improved services, pursuant to their proportionality obligation under law
  20. The state should require LEAs to significantly improve transparency around budget and investments, including but not limited to providing specific information about the funding sources for investments listed in their budget planning documents, including Learning Continuity Plans, LCAPs, and Expanded Learning Opportunities Grant plans.

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