Budgeting, Blended-Learning and the LCFF/LCAP

There's very little about the education system that isn't complex--including figuring out how it's funded. With budget cuts and shifting priorities, it can be difficult for districts to prepare for long-term professional development for teachers and staff. Not to mention, professional development is extremely versatile--what's required for one department may be impractical for another. Creating a strategy to address these challenges is important in improving teacher performance, and ultimately, student success. Blended learning platforms offer a cost-effective way to administer PD, while providing flexibility for changing learning outcomes.

Solving the puzzle

While blended-learning PD isn't the only solution to putting together the budget puzzle, it's a straightforward way to address diverse goals while working within financial constraints.

Let's say a district has $10,000 for ELL program development. Part of improving outcomes for ELL students involves training teachers and staff in best practices. But the district also wants to purchase recommended books, set up a small-group instruction space, and hire a specialist. With a blended-learning platform, districts can offer specific professional development without spending more outside of their initial budget--allowing them to allocate more money towards other resources.

Blended-learning platforms grow and change with a school district. Administrators can prepare a curriculum for teachers addressing individual or departmental objectives and the overall objectives of the district. Instead of spending a large part of the school budget on multiple specialized conferences, administrators can invest in a system that allows them to develop relevant, district-specific content. This PD curriculum remains available to teachers throughout the school year, giving them the freedom to revisit learning, while also providing administrators the freedom to adjust and revise content as necessary. Not to mention, blended-learning PD means learning anytime, anywhere--so programs are not only free from budgetary constraints, but are also operate independent of teacher or workshop availability.

Budgeting in California: LCFF & LCAP

In California, school funds are distributed under the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which puts spending power back in the hands of individual districts. Under the LCFF, districts are allotted a budget, which they can then spend as they and their community see fit. The process of getting input from the community and spending is outlined in a districts Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). This change to the budgeting system was a dramatic shift when it was rolled out in 2013--and while it's implementation has received mixed reactions and results, the goal of the process is to provide transparency in spending, improve outcomes for high-stakes learners, and promote collaboration between schools and parents.

The state has outlined eight priority areas that districts must address in their LCAP:(1) basic services, (2) implementation of common core state standards, (3) parental involvement, (4) student achievement, (5) student engagement, (6) school climate, (7) access to courses, and (8) other student outcomes. The LCAP is organized into overarching goals that specifically connect to these priorities. For example, "prioritizing college and career-readiness" by offering new courses would address student engagement, access to courses and possibly parental involvement.

So where does PD fit into all of this? That's up to the district and their community. Professional development likely represents one large individual expense, while also an action necessary towards meeting other goals. For example, in the 2016 LCAP from San Diego Unified School District, the district's goal of "Quality Leadership, Teaching and Learning" is broken into different various expenditures, including an individual line item for providing professional development. But PD is also a smaller action item that contributes to their "Close the Achievement Gap with High Expectations for All" goal.

While the LCFF system is complex--and certainly not as straightforward as simply listing each expenditure--it does require districts to make decisions thoughtfully and transparently. Rather than picking an arbitrary amount to allocate for resources, districts must now justify and measure this spending, with the input of parents and other stakeholders. By investing in a blended-learning PD platform, funds are allocated for general professional development and the PD necessary to support other district goals.

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