Brave New World of Parent Partnership

Across California, school districts are struggling to align with the brave new world that is Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). This revolutionary restructuring of California’s school-finance system requires that districts partner with parents more than ever before by letting them have a say on how funds should be spent through the Local Control Accountability Plan, or LCAP.

The LCAP is an opportunity for parents to learn about initiatives in their districts to support students facing challenges, and to give input. But budget formulas and acronyms can put even the most motivated individuals to sleep. “Some of the information they gave out, I kind of struggled with,” said Aleta Watson, a parent leader with Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network (PLAN), a membership-based parent organization in Oakland who attended two district conferences on the LCAP. “Sometimes I just had to sit in my chair and not say anything.”

Another challenge is getting busy families to turn out to meetings. Only a handful of parents turned out to the LCAP input session Aleta attended, compared to the dozens of district staff and officials. “It didn’t feel powerful.” That’s why she and many other parents are motivated to do whatever it takes to turn people out to future meetings. “I tell parents: If you don’t get your voice heard, we may be stuck with decisions (district) people make,” says fellow PLAN leader Rukiya Humphries. “I tell them their voices are going to be heard on decisions that will affect their kids. Being heard is that magic spark.”

“The biggest challenge is if parents don’t have guidance. They get frustrated. Support from community organizations helps,” adds Rukiya. Kim Jones, a parent at Brookfield Elementary, started attending school meetings after a conversation with a PLAN organizer. “She showed me that parents can make a difference. It’s all about getting involved, showing up, and getting information. It motivated me to be more involved in the school system and find better avenues to help my children and other children as well.” Kim, Rukiya, and Aleta meet with PLAN staff to learn about LCFF, the LCAP, and how they can effectively speak to the issues their children face in school.

Parents don’t become leaders overnight; it can take months or years to develop the knowledge, confidence, and skills to speak to a room of school officials. Vanessa Cardenas, another PLAN leader, recalls her evolution as a leader: “PLAN asked me to speak in Sacramento on the Weighted Student Formula two years ago. I already had an understanding of what that meant because of PLAN trainings. Once I got myself into that position, I started believing in myself that I could actually impact other families by helping to get money into education. I saw that I could be part of a greater change happening across the state. I guess that is what motivated me the most – to see that I was actually being part of the change. Then I started motivating other parents to believe they could make a difference.” Now, Vanessa motivates other parents to get involved by having one-on-ones. “It actually works!”

Child care, meals, accessible spaces, and translation are essential to support families in attending district meetings. The first meeting Aleta went to, “the parking was terrible and parents didn’t know where to go.” The district staff listened to parents’ feedback and improved parking and directions at the next LCAP event. Better yet, districts should involve community-based organizations in the planning for events. Even then, glitches happen. For example, a recent LCAP meeting had interpretation for the full-group presentations, but not for all of the break-out sessions. In addition, Power Point presentations were only in English and only some of the handouts were translated.

It’s hard to motivate parents to participate in the LCAP or any school district meeting when it’s unclear how their input will be used. “It feels like we are just there, just putting our input on paper; we don’t know what is going to happen with it,” reflects Aleta. Districts should report back to parents how they are using what they learned.

By Melia Franklin