Four years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown held the signing ceremony for a law making dramatic changes in public education funding at a school with a 99 percent minority student body in an impoverished Los Angeles neighborhood. The choice of Cahuenga Elementary School was meant to underline the noble intent of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which Brown and legislative leaders said would address one of California’s biggest needs by directing additional resources specifically to help the 1.3 million-plus students who struggled with learning English, foster children and children in poor communities. That week saw Brown, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg lavish praise on each other for their devotion to educational equity and to social justice.
But ever since then, the idealism that appeared to drive this legislation to passage has come to look more like artifice to cover up a power play — one that funneled billions of dollars to favored school districts, starting with giant Los Angeles Unified. In January 2015, the Legislative Analyst’s Office released a survey of 50 school districts, including the state’s 11 largest, and found not one was properly tracking LCFF funds to ensure they would be used as Brown promised. In June of that year, when state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said (with the governor’s support) that LCFF dollars could be used for teachers’ raises, the bait-and-switch was complete.