Letter to President Michael Kirst LCFF/LCAP

Letter to President Michael Kirst and Members, California State Board of Education:

January 10, 2014

President Michael Kirst and Members via e-mail
California State Board of Education
1430 N Street, #5111
Sacramento, CA 95814

RE: January Meeting Agenda Items 20 & 21: Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF)

Dear President Kirst and Members of the State Board of Education:

Thank you for the opportunity to share these comments as you consider the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) spending regulations and the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) template.

Proposed LCFF regulations have been silent on ways school counselors support the eight priorities and provide vital services for legislatively protected youth. This is a great concern because at-risk students face many challenges they must overcome to achieve their academic potential. For example:

Katrina was a low-income 3rd grade student who was often late or absent. Katrina’s mother had Katrina walk to school after receiving a School Attendance Review Board (SARB) letter. The school counselor observed Katrina shuffling slowly to class. Her knees were swollen. She learned Katrina had Rheumatoid Arthritis, and although not medicated, she painfully walked to school because they had no car.

Michelle’s multiple foster placements resulted in a confusing academic transcript and credit deficiency. Although alternative education was initially considered, Michelle’s high school counselor advocated to create an academic plan for credit recovery to keep her on the high school campus and held regular check-ins with Michelle, her teachers and foster parents.

When Marta moved from Mexico and enrolled in 8th grade, she spoke no English. In high school she was initially placed in English Language Development (ELD) and general education (non-college preparatory) courses. Marta’s 9th grade school counselor noticed her strong academic performance, and encouraged her to take English 1 second semester. He also recommended she apply for the 10th grade AVID program. When she was not initially accepted, her school counselor advocated for her admission.

Inconsistent attendance, language barriers, lack of access to resources, and school transfers can compromise the academic success of students. School counselors are key members of the team providing support for the legislatively protected students this law intends to serve. School counselors provide college/career information, monitor student progress, and provide interventions to address academic and behavioral barriers to learning. School counselors promote and support school climates where the bias of low expectation, social inequities and negative stereotypes is professionally challenged. They advocate for and create policies and practices that promote access and opportunity for students in the targeted subgroups.

As you know, LCFF eliminated most categorical programs including one that previously provided supplemental funding intended for Grade 7-12 School Counseling. Unlike many other states, California does not require school counselors, not even in high schools. There is no guarantee that any student, needy or not, will receive any school counseling services. Some districts “choose” to fund school counselors K-12, and others do not. California consequently has one of the worst school counselor to student ratios in the nation (1:1016). Many districts previously utilized categorical dollars to fund at-risk counselors. If final regulations remain silent on school counseling services, it will be up to local decision makers to determine how these funds will be spent and which, if any students will receives these vital services. Will only a privileged few experience “random acts of school counseling”?

Dare we assume that local decision makers will promote and protect school counseling services if California law does not require them? If history is a predictor, the answer is “no”. When California shifted to “bucket” categorical funding in 2010, districts chose to eliminate over 1,500 school counseling positions. This 13% reduction left many schools with no counselors at all.

The newly released draft regulations propose allowing districts with high-needs students (55% or more) to spend supplemental dollars for school wide purposes as long as the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) specifies how expenses will contribute to raising achievement for targeted students. These regulations will require school boards and superintendents to ask parents and community members for their views on spending priorities during the LCAP process.

No student or parent, particularly those in protective groups (EL/LI/FY) should have to “hope” the local board of education will “choose” to allocate funds for school counselors. But if regulations pass as they are, local decisions will be the only way to ensure students receive college and career information, academic/behavioral interventions, or a four-year plan by a credentialed school counselor. School counseling programs and services should be a “right”, not a privilege for every student, particularly students who need and deserve to receive more.

Comprehensive school counseling programs are integral to meeting all eight state priority areas of the LCAP. Data driven accountable school counseling programs have been shown to produce results that support the conditions of learning and pupil outcome requirements. The most immediate and compelling concern, however, is the brief window of opportunity for certain programs and services to be explicitly guaranteed for students who need and deserve more (EL/LI/FY).

The Governor, community based groups, superintendents and administrators may hold different perspectives along the continuum of opinion about categorical control vs. total flexibility. The power of united voices on this one regulation issue could ensure school counseling is provided. Hopefully, the difference school counselors make each and every day in the lives of students and will be prioritized accordingly.

School counselors do make a difference. Katrina was fortunate she had an elementary school counselor who supported her mother through the complex labyrinth to secure transportation, physical therapy and counseling. Katrina, and her attendance, improved dramatically.

Michelle moved again the next year, but with the support and dedication of her school counselor, Michelle earned enough credits to be on track, became the active custodian of her school records, gained knowledge of graduation and college requirements, and learned about opportunities and benefits available for foster youth.

Marta was fortunate to have Homero as her school counselor. The son of a migrant worker Homero also spoke no English when he was enrolled in lower level courses in middle school. Determined to attend college after high school, Homero attended community college, transferred to and graduated from UC Berkeley, and received his Masters Degree from San Diego State University. Homero became a school counselor to serve as a student advocate ensuring those who have no voice have the opportunity to achieve their greatest potential.

Marta is now an 11th grader in her second year of AVID. She is enrolled in college-prep and four Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Homero boasts she passed the AP Spanish exam with a 5, is getting a B in AP English Language and has a 3.5 GPA. As an undocumented student, Homero will assist Marta in applying for the Dream Act. He is confident that like many other EL students he has advocated for since becoming a school counselor, Marta will fulfill her hopes and dreams of attending college.

Every Katrina, Marta and Michelle deserves a school counselor like Homero. In the regulations, action plans or guidelines, please ensure school counseling is no longer silent.

Thank you for your consideration and for all your work on behalf of California’s students.

Sincerely,

Trish Hatch, PhD