By Iwunze Ugo and Laura Hill
School funding for both traditional public schools and charter schools underwent a major change in 2013, with the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). Seeking to focus on high-need students—those who are economically disadvantaged, English Learners (EL), or foster youth1—and expand local authority and accountability over education spending, the new funding formula shifted away from the system of revenue limits and categorical programs, which had long been criticized as outdated and overly restrictive.2 The LCFF provides funding to school districts and charter schools through uniform base grants that are augmented by two levels of additional funding for high-need students: the supplemental grant, which provides added funding based on a district’s share of high-need students, and the concentration grant, which provides even more funding for districts in which more than 55 percent of students are identified as high need.
Before the LCFF, charter schools received less per pupil funding than traditional public school districts because some categorical funding was not available to them (Estrada 2012).3 Charter schools are now incorporated into a unified structure where they are treated much like school districts in terms of funding and accountability. There is, however, a provision in the LCFF that limits the amount of funding that some charters receive. While districts receive concentration grant funding if their share of high-need students is above 55 percent, the grant for a charter school is calculated based not on that school’s share of high-need students but on the share in the local district—if it is lower. This provision—which aims to discourage districts from trying to relieve pressure on their budgets by converting schools with many high-need students into charters, thus isolating them from less-disadvantaged students and communities (Fensterwald 2013, Cabral and Chu 2013)—lowers the amount of funding allocated to some charter schools. Charter schools serve more than 565,000 students4—many of whom are high need—and these somewhat arbitrary disparities have the potential to impact a substantial number of them.