California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) spending regulations were finalized at the January State Board of Education (SBE) meeting. Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) templates are now scheduled for release by March 31, 2014. The passing of LCFF eliminated most categorical programs and places decision making for spending in the hands of local school communities. As Governor Brown stated when he visited the SBE: “Instead of prescriptive commands issued from headquarters here in Sacramento, more general goals have been established for each local school to attain, each in its own way.” LEARN MORE BY WATCHING THIS VIDEO.
The LCAP templates describe the specific “services,” and actions the LEA will take in their plan to achieve annual goals in each of eight priority areas. As educators and community stakeholders prioritize funding recommendations, they are urged to research the current status and impact of recent budget cuts on specific “services” provided by credentialed school counselors. They may find these services are at risk of reduction or elimination if not prioritized in the LCAP.
Categorically legislated programs once provided hundreds of millions of dollars to ensure school counselors provided vital academic, college/career and personal/social counseling services for students. Three of the largest funding streams are described below.
PREVIOUSLY FUNDED PROGRAMS
1. The Tenth Grade Counseling Program (SB 813), established in 1983, provided funding to ensure each student received a systematic review of his or her academic progress by a school counselor during the final two years of high school. In 2005-2006, funds were shifted to the Pupil Retention Block Grant. The law requiring counselors perform a checklist of activities (such as meeting with parents of students at risk of dropping out) remains on the CDE website as an “effective school counseling practice,” however, these vital services for students are no longer required.
2. School Safety funds (Carl Washington School Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 1999) which became law after Columbine, earmarked $100 million intended for additional school counselors to provide violence prevention and intervention programs. Recent additions to Section 32282.1 of the Education Code which previously required districts to state the roles and responsibilities school counselors in this area now adds the language “if the school district uses these people.”
3. The 7-12 School Counseling fund (AB 1802) provided $200 million beginning in 2006 for the purpose of hiring school counselors to ensure all students in middle and high school received a thorough review of their academic plan and deportment records by a school counselor. In addition, students not on target to graduate were guaranteed a meeting with their parents and a school counselor to review their student’s progress, learn the requirements for both graduation and college and to plan an appropriate targeted intervention. In 2009, while the categorical program title remained, funding was reduced by 15%, permission was given to use funds for any educational purpose, and reporting requirements were eliminated.
Under the new LCFF regulations, these three categorical programs originally intended to fund school counselors have been eliminated. This means previously required vital services for students are no longer required. Thus, there is no guarantee that any student will receive any specific school counseling service.
Unlike many other states, California does not require school counselors, not even in high school. The Ed Code 49600 language states districts “may,” not “shall,” provide educational counseling for all students. Some districts “choose” to fund K-12 school counselors, and others do not. Consequently, California has the worst school counselor to student ratio in the nation at 1:1,016, more than double the national average of 1:471 (1:510 in WA; 1:553 in OR; 1:402 in CO; 1: 451 in FL; 1: 440 in TX).
Districts that choose to employ school counselors vary greatly in the ways in which they fund school counselors. Some include school counselors in base funding models; others have relied on categorical funds, grant funds or some combination of funding. Thus, district that previously funded school counselors primarily through one or more of the categorical programs mentioned above will either need to shift their funding to base funding and/or propose school counselors become entirely or partially funded in their LCAP.
Pupil Support Services are listed as one of many allowable expenses in the description of “services” associated with Code section 42238.07. Funding school counselors in the LCAP requires the district to demonstrate how school counseling programs meet the needs and improve the performance of all pupils. Data driven accountable school counseling programs have been shown to produce measurable results that support the conditions of learning, engagement, and pupil outcome requirements.
How might those who want to advocate for equitable access to student support services in the LCAP make their voices heard?
Districts are currently sending out surveys, holding focus group meetings, and posting videos explaining LCFF and LCAP to their stakeholders. Some are asking respondents to prioritize the importance of each of the 8 areas. Others ask how the district can help improve in each of the 8 areas, and provide a blank box. Without a list of allowable services that can be funded, how does a stakeholder know what to write in the box?
Reasonability suggests that any guidelines, surveys, examples of programs, activities or suggestions from which stakeholders might to prioritize services should include school counseling (and all allowable services). One district survey (now closed) included a suggestion of services and asks respondents to respond to their perception of the “importance” of these services.
The LCAP places emphasis on communication, transparency, good planning and stakeholder engagement. Plans must align with the districts budget; indicate how funding expenses are linked to specific services. However, as districts are creating surveys and stakeholders are responding to them, it is unclear how school counseling will be prioritized against other activities. There does not appear to be any way for a survey respondent to determine whether there is school counseling program in this district, if the current program (if there is one) is scheduled to be funded by base grant funds or if supplemental and/or concentration grants funds are needed to provide programs and services for all students or legislatively protected youth. How does a stakeholder know if a program exists, how a program is currently funded, or if a program needs more or less funding?
Districts will use the template developed by State Board of Education (SBE) and scheduled for release March 31, 2014, in developing their plans. School counseling programs are central to the successful implementation of the LCAP, but templates and guidelines provide no suggestions for the multiple ways school counseling programs support the goals and objectives of the eight priorities and provide necessary services for legislatively protected youth: English Learners (EL), Limited Income (IE), and Foster Youth (FY). As the Governor stated, that there are no “prescriptive commands”; every local school will indeed do it their “own way.”
The appropriate role of today’s school counselor is integral to meeting all eight of the states priorities. School counselors are advocates for students in legislatively protected (EL/LI/FY) subgroups ensuring they receive the additional programs and services necessary to achieve their highest potential.
Don’t Hope, ACT.
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 to ensure their students have access to the services provided by school counselors.
School counseling programs and services should be a “right,” not a privilege for every student, particularly students who need and deserve to receive more. California does not require any school to hire school counselors; therefore local advocates and decision makers will provide the only way to ensure students receive vital programs and services provided by school counselors.
Will only the privileged receive these school counseling services? Will California students and parents experience “random acts of school counseling?” There is a brief window of opportunity for educators, parents and local stakeholders to ensure certain programs and services are provided and to explicitly guarantee additional services for students who need and deserve more (EL/LI/FY).
The power of educated voices on surveys and in focus groups can stimulate important and necessary conversations about what all students deserve to receive. Hopefully, consideration will be given to the difference school counselors make each and every day in the lives of students they serve and priorities will aligned accordingly. Act. Make your voice heard.