LCFF money for teacher raises? ‘Not what we intended’ says CA lawmaker
Craig Clough | July 22, 2015
A state lawmaker is challenging California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson‘s recent assertion that grants intended to help low-income, English learners and foster youth can be used for across-the-board teacher raises.
Assemblymember Shirley Weber, a Democrat from San Diego, says Torlakson’s interpretation of the law could completely erode the purpose of the grants, opening up other uses of the money that the legislature did not contemplate.
“That is not what we intended at the state level,” she told LA School Report.
“It seems like it’s never going to end, there is no question about it, and that’s my great concern,” she added. “Once you open up this, you open up something else, and then you find yourself in a position having taken this money for these schools and these kids and not being able to produce the results.”
The California Teachers Association, a major donor to Torlakson’s relection campaign last year, backed Torlakson’s interpretation and said it “believes the law is clear: The money can be used to attract and retain quality teachers in the classroom,” according to California Public Radio.
Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) grants were created by the legislature to help school district provide greater academic support for three categories of students — those from low-income families, English learners and foster youth.
Torlakson’s approval of using the money for teacher raises came within a June 10 letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators. He said districts must simply be able to argue in their Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAP) that the raises would make a difference.
He said “A district may be able to document in its LCAP that its salaries result in difficulties in recruiting, hiring, or retaining qualified staff which adversely affects the quality of the district’s educational program, particularly for [these] pupils, and that the salary increase will address these adverse impacts.” Guidelines for using the funds for raises is more restrictive for districts with less than 55 percent of those categories of students, but is still possible, he said.
To Weber, that explanation rings hollow. She said Torlakson’s letter is a complete reversal of his own previous opinion on the matter. She also said she has not spoken to a single state legislator who shares Torlakson’s view.
Torlakson’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
“I think the superintendent has changed his interpretation from his original interpretation. And now he is saying if you can justify it somehow or another in some way that this really fits into the overall — I don’t know, the justification doesn’t seem to wash well,” Weber said.
Weber is a former college professor, a former president of the San Diego Board of Education, a member of the Assembly Education Committee and has a reputation for speaking her mind on education issues.
She argued that Torlakson’s letter opens the door to looser and looser interpretations of the LCFF, a law that went into effect in 2013.
“Some district might want to say, ‘Let’s take the money and have summer school.’ Well OK, is every kid that we are going to give summer school to going to have the same challenges? If not, then why are we funding the district’s summer school that should have been in another pot of money?” she said.
Weber also said using the funds for raises will create unfair advantages for certain districts when it comes to offering competitive wages.
“You are also saying that school districts that do not have these unique challenges are not going to be able to pay their teachers in the same way,” she said.
Weber said she has spoken to a few colleagues about Torlakson’s letter but it is not clear if anyone in the Legislature will try to clarify the issue through a new bill. She did acknowledge that lawsuits may result from districts using LCFF funds for raises and that clarity on the issue may need to come from the courts.
LA Unified has already been the target of a major lawsuit in how it spends its LCFF funds, but the issue is not over raises. The district was also criticized in a recent UC Berkeley study over how it was distributing its LCFF funds, but that was for using them in part to hire new staff and teachers, not over raises.