CA Testing Participation Rates

What California Charter Leaders Need to Know About Testing Participation Rates

By Annice Weinstein, Senior Manager, Assessment Data & Analysis

January 15, 2020

EdTec’s data specialists put together a tool that makes it easy for any school to check their 2019 participation rates. Click here to review your 2019 participation rates for ELA and math, schoolwide and for each student group.

In Spring 2020, the testing participation rate will matter more than ever for the Dashboard. Check out our recent blog post to learn why.

So, who counts towards the participation rate calculation?

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires all California schools (including charters and Dashboard Alternative School Status, or DASS, schools) to test at least 95 percent of all students and student groups in English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics, and to factor the participation rate into California’s accountability system, the CA School Dashboard. The calculation includes students tested on Smarter Balanced (SBAC) Summative Assessments as well as the CA Alternate Assessments (CAAs) in ELA and mathematics. Students must take both the computer adaptive test (CAT) and performance task (PT) sections to count as participating. The rates are calculated separately for each subject area. The CA Science Test (CAST) is not currently included on the Dashboard, but participation rate will be calculated for the CAST as well.

All schools that serve students in grades three through eight and eleven are responsible for meeting the 95 percent participation rate, both schoolwide and for all student groups with at least 11 students. Even though only groups with 30 or more students receive a color designation on the Dashboard, groups with at least 11 continuously enrolled students will have Status data reported on the Dashboard, and the participation rate will impact the Distance from Standard (DFS) for those groups.

How is the participation rate calculated?

Although the DFS for the Dashboard is calculated based on students continuously enrolled since census day, the participation rate is based on the number of students enrolled during the testing window. The participation rate penalty is applied after the initial DFS average is calculated.

The following students are removed from the participation rate:

  • Medical emergency: Students absent from testing due to a significant medical emergency and flagged with a medical emergency condition code on the CAASPP file
  • English learners new to the country (enrolled after April 15 of the prior school year) are exempt from the ELA portion only. They are still required to take the Math assessment.

Parent waivers DO NOT EXEMPT students from the participation rate.

 

Formula for Participation Rate*

Total number of students tested (SBAC and CAAs)

——————————————————————————-

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Total number of students enrolled during testing window

*The CDE uses whole number rounding (example: 94.1% rounds up to 95%)

 

The testing window begins when the first student at the school logs on to take either the CAT or PT of the SBAC in ELA or math or the CAA. The end of the testing window

Make sure to test any students who transfer in during the testing window, although you’re not responsible for testing students who transfer in during the last 14 days of the testing window. You’re also responsible for testing any students who transfer out during the testing window provided they don’t transfer out during the first 14 days of the testing window.

To monitor your testing progress in TOMS, have an LEA-level user generate the Test Completion Rate Report. You can export the report to Excel to total the “Total Student Completed” column across grade levels for each subject area. Separately, based on your enrollment in CALPADS, calculate the total students needed to test at your school in order to reach a 94.1% participation rate. Check that the total from the Test Completion Rate report is above your estimated total. Note: The “Total Student” column in the report includes students with medical exemptions but not students with parent waivers, so that total and the “Percent Completed” column can be misleading in relation to the participation rate.

Where can I check my school’s 2019 participation rates?

EdTec’s data specialists put together a tool that makes it easy for any school to check their 2019 participation rates. Click here to review your 2019 participation rates for ELA and math, schoolwide and for each student group. Take note of any student groups that had a participation rate below 95%. And begin communicating the importance of meeting the 95% participation rate with your students and families now to ensure a successful round of testing in Spring 2020!

EdTec’s Winter & Spring LCAP Workshops

January 2020

This year EdTec is offering  a series of workshops  to make sure your school is fully prepared to tackle the LCAP!  While the fall workshop has already passed, school leaders still have the option to register for the Winter & Spring Workshop Bundle. Each workshop addresses relevant topics to focus on in the winter and spring, and together build cumulative knowledge that will lead to a quality, actionable LCAP. Registration is now open for the Winter & Spring Workshop Bundle, as well as the individual Winter Workshop; the workshop dates, times, and topics are outlined below. When you register for the workshop bundle, you save $100 off the total price of the two workshops!

Workshop Overview

EdTec’s charter school LCAP experts will lead you through small-group, hands-on workshops designed to strengthen your LCAP and teach you to engage stakeholders, align your goals, set reasonable metrics, and track expenditures. We’ll also make sure to provide updates about policy and accountability requirements along the way.

Workshop Locations, Dates, & Times

Winter Workshops

Emeryville (Bay Area) EdTec Office: Friday, January 24, 9am – 12pm Register here!

Los Angeles EdTec Office: Friday, February 7, 9am – 12pm Register here!

Spring Workshops

Emeryville (Bay Area) EdTec Office: Friday, April 24, 10am – 3pm

Los Angeles EdTec Office: Friday, May 1, 10am – 3pm

Registration is now open for the Workshop Series, as well as the individual Winter Workshop. You may register for the workshops using the links above or by clicking the buttons below.

Understand the Role of the California School Dashboard in New Renewal Criteria

By Annice Weinstein, Senior Manager, Assessment Data & Analysis

December 18, 2019

If you have questions about your Dashboard or would like to know what renewal track your school qualifies for based on 2018 and 2019 Dashboard data, contact EdTec’s data specialists.

 

California’s 2019 School Dashboard was just released in mid-December 2019. The 2019 Dashboard reflects your school’s performance during the 2018-19 school year and performance improvement from 2017-18 to 2018-19. The Dashboard indicators will be central to charter renewal criteria starting July 1, 2020, when AB 1505 legislation goes into effect, so take time now to review your indicators closely, both schoolwide and for your student groups. The new renewal criteria will apply to Dashboard Alternative School Status (DASS) schools as well.

The new charter renewal criteria splits schools into three groups based on their Dashboard performance:

High

High-performing schools can expect a streamlined renewal for a term of five to seven years. Schools that receive all blue and green indicators in the most recent two years (2018 and 2019 Dashboards) qualify, as well as schools that meet the following criteria for closing the achievement gap:

For all measurements of academic performance, the charter school has received performance levels schoolwide that are the same or higher than the state average and, for a majority of subgroups performing statewide below the state average in each respective year, received performance levels that are higher than the state average.

The secondary criteria indicates schools must perform equal to or better than the state indicators schoolwide for ELA, math, English learner progress (ELPI), and college and career (CCI), and the majority of the school’s disadvantaged student groups must also perform better than the state indicators for those student groups.

When the state average performance increases, the criteria become more challenging to meet. Statewide indicators improved either schoolwide or for student groups in math, ELA, and the CCI from 2018 to 2019. Whereas 8.2% of charters would have qualified for the high track in 2018, only 4.3% qualify in 2019.

Determinations are based on Dashboard performance over the last two years. Schools identified for differentiated assistance cannot qualify for the high-performing track.

Low

Low-performing schools can expect non-renewal or at best, a two-year renewal. These schools have all red or orange indicators on the dashboard for the past two years, or meet the following criteria:

For all measurements of academic performance, the charter school has received performance levels schoolwide that are the same or lower than the state average and, for a majority of subgroups performing statewide below the state average in each respective year, received performance levels that are lower than the state average.

The secondary criteria reflect the opposite of the high group – a majority of a school’s student groups are performing below the state’s student group performance on the academic indicators.

A “second look” consideration will be given to schools in the low category to consider alternative measures of achievement growth and post-secondary success, but the that process will only be available through 2026. The “second look” process will take into account evidence-based “verified data”[i] that the school is producing measurable increases in academic achievement equivalent to one year’s progress for each year the student is in school.

Middle

The remainder of charters will fall into the middle category, and they can expect a five-year renewal if approved. This will encompass 80-90% of charter schools. The “second look” process also applies to these schools if the Dashboard indicators are not a good reflection of the school’s achievements. This process will likely benefit schools with high rates of school mobility or with many students who enter far below grade level, small schools with few Dashboard indicators, and high schools achieving post-secondary success not represented in the college and career indicator.

As you review your school’s Dashboard indicators, take note of the two elements that make up the indicator: your status for 2018-19 and the change from 2017-18 to 2018-19. Even relatively small changes from one year to the next can cause your indicator color to fluctuate. Also make sure to click “View More Details” to review the performance of each of your significant student groups.

 

CA School Dashboard

 

If you have questions about your Dashboard or would like to know what renewal track your school qualifies for based on 2018 and 2019 Dashboard data, contact EdTec’s data specialists

[i] “Verified Data” criteria will be released by the state in January 2021

CA Dashboard Participation Rate

California Charters, SBAC Participation Rate Matters More Now Than Ever!

By Jennifer Reyes, Educational Support Services Manager

December 10, 2019

Starting with the 2020 CA School Dashboard, there will be a greater penalty to the Academic Indicators if a school’s participation rate falls below 95% on Math or ELA for the SBAC or CAA. The change will result in a greater decrease in Distance from Standard than the methodology used in the 2018 and 2019 Dashboards for schools that did not meet the participation rate threshold.  The Academic Indicators in the 2020 Dashboard will be calculated based on 19-20 CAASPP results.  That means schools have the opportunity NOW to plan for 95% or higher participation rates in Spring 2020 to avoid the new larger penalty.

Why the change?

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to test at least 95% of all students and student groups in ELA and mathematics.  California introduced a methodology for factoring participation rate into scores in 2018.  This methodology will be applied once more in the 2019 Dashboard release (with test results from 2018-19).  The federal Education Department reviewed the California Department of Education (CDE)’s methodology and determined that it does not meet ESSA requirements.

What is the current methodology?

For the 2018 and 2019 CA Dashboard data, CDE calculates the number of percentage points that the school, LEA, or student group falls short of the 95% participation target.  For each of these percentage points, they reduce the Distance from Standard (DFS) by 0.25 points.

What is the new methodology?

Instead of a 0.25 point penalty for each percentage point below 95%, the CDE will assign the Lowest Obtainable Score (LOSS) for each student needed to bring the school, district, or student group to a 95% participation rate.  Under the new methodology, the calculation will add the number of students needed to reach a 95% participation rate into the DFS calculations, and these students will be assigned a predetermined LOSS score.  The LOSS in Level 1 varies by subject and grade level.  The calculation will assign the LOSS among the school’s tested grade levels that penalizes the school the least.

Are there any exceptions to the participation rate requirement?

Students flagged with the “Medical Emergency” condition code will be automatically removed from the participation rate calculation unless they log onto both parts of the test.  English learners new to the country (enrolled in a U.S. school for less than one year) are exempt from taking the ELA portion of the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments.  It’s important to note that parent waivers do not exempt students form the participation rate calculations. Also note that the same LOSS will be applied to students who do not take the California Alternative Assessments as for those taking the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments.

What can I do to ensure 95% participation?

Awareness, advance planning, and strong systems can all be leveraged to ensure a strong participation rate.  Educate staff, parents, and students about the way in which your school performance is tracked and publicized on the CA School Dashboard.  When stakeholders mobilize around school goals, everyone is invested in having their school represented in the best possible light.  When planning the window and logistics of the testing, it’s important to solicit staff, parent, and student input to avoid unanticipated barriers to participation and optimize the testing schedule for everyone.  Be sure to include a cushion of time for make-up testing for absent students. Finally, set up systems for reminding everyone of their role in successful testing, and closely monitor participation rates while still within your window and respond accordingly until you hit or surpass 95%.

Is your school ready to hit 95% participation on SBAC/CAA Math and ELA? Let us know how you plan to prepare in the comments section below!

My School Had an Emergency Closure. Do I Need to File a J-13A Emergency Waiver?

By the EdTec Data Team

October 16, 2019

Between power outages, wildfires, and other natural disasters, there are many events that may result in unexpected school closures. Read on to learn if you need to complete a J-13A emergency waiver, and the steps you should take to make sure you’re in compliance with the State of California’s requirements.

If my school experiences an unexpected closure, what should I do?

Before completing a J-13A emergency waiver, there are a few things to consider. First, find out if the length of the closure ends up putting your school below the state’s annual instructional minutes and days requirement. You’ll also want to look at your charter petition to see if you have instructional minutes or days requirements beyond what the state mandates. If your instructional time doesn’t fall below either requirement, you can relax – you don’t need to complete a J-13A waiver.

However, what if the closure puts you below the requirements? Again, don’t panic – you have options! Your first option is to add days to your calendar and/or minutes to your bell schedule later in the year to recover the lost days/minutes resulting from the closure. If you go this route, you do not need to complete a waiver, although it is highly recommended that you get these calendar and bell schedule changes approved by your board. But if you prefer to keep your calendar and bell schedule as is, your second option is to complete a J-13A waiver. Simply completing the waiver isn’t enough; it must be signed by a majority of your board, and approved by your authorizer, the county, and the California Department of Education (CDE). Only after your waiver makes it through this multi-level approval process will the state allow your school to be below the instructional time requirements without penalty.

The J13-A waiver also has a material decrease option. But what does this option really mean? The material decrease option applies to schools that stay open during an emergency. If the event has an adverse impact on the school’s attendance, a school can use the material decrease option to substitute its attendance for the affected days with the school’s average daily attendance (ADA). This option is a bit unpredictable and may not actually be as beneficial as just removing the lost days and/or replacing them. This option is unpredictable because we don’t know exactly what you will get as your final replacement ADA until the CDE approves the waiver and then does calculations based on your attendance data. This is one of the reasons why the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) recommends not filing the waiver unless you know you’re below the instructional minutes and days requirement.

If the emergency occurred before P-1, do I need to file the waiver before submitting my school’s P-1?

Not necessarily, but you should confirm your attendance data accurately reflects any changes caused by the unexpected closure before submitting your P-1 to ensure your ADA is correct.

It is important your school decides as soon as possible whether it wants to file the waiver or add more days to your schedule since you obviously can’t make additions to the calendar or schedule after the year is over. Although schools report days of instruction with the P-Annual at the end of the year and auditors verify instructional time requirements around the same time, it is best to file a waiver before P-2 so you know what your P-2 ADA will be without having to wait for an adjustment. Waivers filed after P-2 will lead to any ADA funding revisions processed as prior year adjustments and won’t be reflected until P-1 of the following year. Also keep in mind that CDE approval can take months, depending how many waivers are submitted.

Now that we’ve discussed the waiver, are there any other things to keep in mind?

Yes, don’t forget your Student Information System (SIS)! Each SIS is different but there should be a way to change days from school days to non-school days. Make sure to update your SIS to reflect any closure days and, if applicable, add any replacement days. You need to do this even if you do not file a J-13A waiver. If you’re still uncertain of what the process is like in your SIS, reach out to your EdTec data contact or your SIS support line.

In addition to updating your SIS, you’ll also need to update your school calendar showing closure days as non-school days. Any other changes such as days added as replacement should also be included in your school calendar update. It is also helpful to recalculate your instructional days/minutes, so you have an updated calculation available.

If you have additional questions about the J-13A waiver, don’t hesitate to reach out to your EdTec data contact. You can also find additional guidance from CDE’s J-13A website at https://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/aa/pa/formj13afaq.asp.

EdTec’s 2019 LCAP Workshop Series

EdTec’s popular LCAP workshops are back, and this year we’re offering a series of three workshops starting in the fall to make sure your school is fully prepared to tackle the LCAP!

EdTec’s charter school LCAP experts will lead you through small-group, hands-on workshops designed to strengthen your LCAP and teach you to engage stakeholders, align your goals, set reasonable metrics, and track expenditures. We’ll also make sure to provide updates about policy and accountability requirements along the way.

Workshop Series Overview

The workshop series begins in the fall and is designed to make sure you have smart processes in place from the start to guide the successful development of your LCAP throughout the school year and help you to avoid the last-minute LCAP scramble! Each workshop addresses relevant topics to focus on in the fall, winter, and spring, and together build cumulative knowledge that will lead to a quality, actionable LCAP.

LCAP Workshops

Registration is now open for the workshop series. If you wish to register for just the individual workshops, registration is now open for the Fall Workshop. You can register for the Fall Workshop by clicking the links below or buttons at the bottom of the page.

Workshop Locations, Dates, & Times 

Fall Workshop

Emeryville (Bay Area) EdTec Office: Friday, October 25, 9am – 12pm | Register Here!

Los Angeles EdTec Office: Friday, November 8, 9am – 12pm | Register Here!

Winter Workshop

Emeryville (Bay Area) EdTec Office: Friday, January 24, 9am – 12pm

Los Angeles EdTec Office: Friday, February 7, 9am – 12pm

Spring Workshop

Emeryville (Bay Area) EdTec Office: Friday, April 24, 10am – 3pm

Los Angeles EdTec Office: Friday, May 1, 10am – 3pm

Local Indicators

Everything A California Charter School Leader Needs to Know About Local Indicators!

By Jennifer Reyes, Educational Support Services Manager

October 1, 2019

What are the Local Indicators?

The Local Indicators are indicators based on the Eight State Priorities included in a Local Education Agency’s (LEA’s) Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP).  Unlike the state measures that are automatically calculated by state-captured data, the Local Indicators are calculated with data collected by each LEA.  After collecting the data, the school uses the California Department of Education (CDE) self-reflection tools to measure progress, and then reports the findings to its board and finally, to the public via the California School Dashboard.

The Due Date is Fast Approaching!

The due date for the Local Indicators to be uploaded to the California School Dashboard is November 1, 2019.  This is a couple of weeks earlier than last year, so be sure to set aside enough time for the self-reflection and board approval.

It may seem strange to have a reporting requirement that is out-of-sync with the cycle of the LCAP Annual Update.  But the CDE envisions that LEAs will do the work for Local Indicators as part of their annual LCAP reflection and updates.  It is just the reporting for Local Indicators that comes later in Fall, as it is aligned to the annual release of the California School Dashboard.  So, there is flexibility as to when in the year your school conducts the Local Indicators self-reflection, as long as you obtain board approval and upload to the California School Dashboard by the deadline.

Revision Alert: Revised Tool for Priority 3 -Family Engagement

Note the revised self-reflection tool in 2019 for Priority 3:  Family Engagement. This indicator was formerly called Parent Involvement and was revised this past year, after Assembly Bill (AB)2878 expanded the description of Parent Involvement to include family engagement.  AB2878 retained the requirement to address the following in the LCAP:

  • Seek parent input in making decisions for the school district and each individual school site
  • Promote parental participation in programs for unduplicated pupils and individuals with exceptional needs

It added the following:

Family engagement may include, but need not be limited to:

  • Efforts by the school district and each individual school site to apply research-based practices, such as welcoming all families into the school community, engaging in effective two-way communication, supporting pupil success, and empowering families to advocate for equity and access
  • Families as partners to inform, influence, and create practices and programs that support pupil success and collaboration with families and the broader community, expand pupil learning opportunities and community services, and promote civic participation.

CDE convened a workgroup for the project and ultimately composed a revised self-reflection tool to encompass the former and new components.  Previously, the tool had two options:  1) Summarizing key findings from a parent survey or 2) Reflecting on local measures relevant to seeking input from parents and promoting parents.  The new tool has three sections, and each uses a set of questions with a numeric rating scale, plus one narrative prompt.  The three sections are: 1.) Building relationships between school staff and families, 2.) Building partnerships for student outcomes, and 3.) Seeking input for decision-making.

Meeting the Requirements

When you input the Local Indicators through the California School Dashboard interface, you will select Standard Met, Standard Not Met, or Standard Not Met for Two or More Years, according to the criteria.  You meet the indicators by:

  1. Measuring progress annually
  2. Reporting results at a regularly scheduled public board meeting
  3. Publicly reporting results through the California School Dashboard

If you have completed steps one through three above, then you have met the indicator for that year and should select “Met.”  In other words, meeting the indicators does not depend on the contents of your self-ratings and reflection, but rather on the completion of the process of reflecting and reporting.

Accountability for Local Indicators

Local Indicators are included in the annual criteria for differentiated assistance:

  • The charter school fails to meet the Criteria for three or more student groups (or all the student groups if there are fewer than three student groups)
  • In regard to one or more state or school priorities identified in the charter
  • For three out of four consecutive school years

If identified for differentiated assistance, the authorizer may opt to provide support or request support from the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence (CCEE).  The authorizer shall consider revocation for a school if, after support is provided, they determine that a) the charter is unwilling or unable to implement the CCEE recommendations or b) inadequate performance of the charter school, based on the Dashboard, is so persistent or acute as to require revocation. The authorizer must consider increase in pupil academic achievement for all student groups as the most important factor in determining whether to revoke a charter.  Charters may not appeal revocation.

Resources

It’s important that schools make time to fully understand the Local Indicators requirements and reserve enough time to complete all the steps appropriately.  The following resources are designed to help you understand and complete your 2019 Local Indicators:

Dashboard Coordinator Login:  https://coordinator.caschooldashboard.org/#/application

2019 Self-Reflection Tools:  https://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/cm/localindicators.asp

CDE LCFF/LCAP LISTERV: JOIN-LCFF-LIST@MLIST.CDE.CA.GOV

And check out EdTec’s informational video – we’ll walk you through the Local Indicators reporting process!

If you have questions or need assistance with your school’s Local Indicators, please reach out to Jennifer Reyes, EdTec’s Educational Support Services Manager.

LCAP Community Engagement

Engaging Stakeholders in Your School’s LCAP Development

By Jennifer Reyes, Ed.D., Educational Support Services Manager

September 9, 2019

Embrace Local Control

As one of the key pillars of California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), stakeholder engagement has a prominent section in the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP).  The idea behind LCFF is that Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) will have “local control” over the use of their funds through the combined input of parents, teachers, school leaders and staff, and other community partners.  At the district level, LCAP engagement efforts may not address school-specific concerns, but charter schools can easily align LCAP engagement with the goals and plans of their unique school community.

Create a Plan to Engage all Stakeholders

 According to Ed. Code, the LEA must “consult with teachers, principals, administrators, other school personnel, local bargaining units of the school district, parents and pupils” in developing the LCAP.  They must describe in the LCAP the steps they took to engage parents, pupils, and the community and how this engagement contributed to developing the LCAP.  The CDE is preparing to introduce a new LCAP template in the coming months, and the proposed template requires a description of how the engagement of each group impacted the current plan (see below for a screenshot).

Proposed New LCAP Stakeholder Engagement Section:

Leaders will need to be prepared with specific responses for the applicable groups.  This can be accomplished with a little bit of backwards planning.  For example, I may hope that by year’s end I would like to be able to state that my English Learner Parent Advisory Committee carefully reviewed the actions and services dedicated specifically to English Learners and made recommendations.  I can plan now for those committee agendas and surveys to include LCAP input.  I can do the same to ensure that LCAP is part of the agendas for board, parent, and staff meetings periodically throughout the year.

Avoid Information Overload

Now that I have planned LCAP engagement into the calendar of meetings for each stakeholder group, how do I make the information digestible?  What kind of input do I ask for?  Again, we can think ahead to the impact we would like each group to have in our LCAP development.  I might decide that I want all my parents, students, and staff to be able to articulate my school’s three big goals.  I want to be able to review data points with all three groups to keep them invested in achieving the goals.  Then with my advisory committees, perhaps I want to do a deeper dive into the curriculum or professional development initiatives.  I can select key components to review with each group instead of asking them to sift through the entire plan.

Make it Meaningful

 Hopefully your school has an LCAP that is well organized and aligned to your school’s mission and vision.  If not, you can redesign it.  The more the plan speaks to your community, the easier it will be to align it with the work you do and the conversations you already hope to have with all your stakeholders.  By taking a few steps now to set up the system of engagement for the year, you can ensure that you have much to say about the impact of your various groups on your school’s LCAP.

 

 

 

 

Using Benchmarking as a Budgeting Tool

By Trevor Skelton, Associate Client Manager

June 2019

California charters are full swing into the budgeting season for the upcoming school year, and for brand-new schools to thriving networks, budgeting is never a simple process. We at EdTec often find that benchmarking against historical data as well as data from similar charters is an invaluable tool in assessing whether a budget is built on realistic assumptions. This information should not be used to define an entire budget, but rather as one of many tools used to inform budget formation and key financial decisions. This data also helps school leaders to understand the charter financial landscape, discover inefficiencies in their budgeting practices, and evaluate where and why their budgets may be similar to or different from that of the average charter.

Revenue

From a historical viewpoint, the last five years have seen strong increases in K-12 education funding with the full implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which was enacted in FY14 to replace the previous California education funding system. Between the five-year period from FY14 to FY18, the average charter’s total revenues grew from $9,513 per ADA to $13,078, or nearly 9% per year.

In FY14, average LCFF revenues for charters were $6,887 per unit of Average Daily Attendance (ADA) – in FY18, they were $9,633c a 40% increase as closing the gap toward target funding progressed ahead of schedule. However, not all schools have benefited equally from LCFF. Funding is distributed to schools based on the number of students who qualify for Free and Reduced Priced Meals, are foster youth or homeless, or qualify as English Language Learners. This unduplicated pupil percentage (UPP) of students is a major funding indicator now that LCFF has been fully implemented, with the intent to direct additional resources to students and schools that need them the most. Funding disparities between schools with low and high populations of unduplicated students have grown significantly, as shown in the graph below. Beyond LCFF, federal revenues, most commonly Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Title funding, also have a direct relationship with unduplicated students. Thus, accurate budgeting, tracking, and reporting of ADA and student demographics via CALPADS are more important than ever in maximizing revenue.

In FY18 the average charter school reported a 64% UPP, so while many have enjoyed increased resources, others have been forced to innovate to acquire resources to make ends meet. For charters, we see that disparities in government funding are often supplemented with local funding where available. In particular and perhaps unsurprisingly, charters located in counties with higher median household incomes, especially the Bay Area and Coastal regions, have the greatest access to these additional resources. Charters with a UPP of below 25% reported an average of just below $1,000 per ADA in local revenue, compared to less than $500 for the average charter.

K-12 education funding is at a point of uncertainty. LCFF has reached target, and FCMAT projects meager 2-3% COLA adjustments in future years – well below the revenue increases of the past half-decade of steady economic growth. An economic recession would certainly impact not just state funding, but local resources as well. Charters will need to be able to adapt and weather a possible storm if they are to survive an uncertain future.

Expenses

In examining statewide charter expenditure data, we see that expenses have grown in a similar fashion to revenue over the past five years. The average charter was spending $8,411 per ADA in FY14 – by FY18, this had grown to $12,011, a 43% increase. Over this time period, California has grown from near the bottom of per pupil spending in all the U.S. to about average[1]. While certainly movement in the right direction, pupil performance indicators, a higher-than-average cost of living, and the uncertain future of LCFF funding all indicate that this is hardly the moment for celebration.

An average charter will spend 60% of its budget on salaries and benefits, so it is essential to understand each piece of the compensation puzzle and to budget appropriately for future considerations. Overall, salaries per ADA have risen 9% a year, a rate of growth charters may no longer be able to afford in the new post-LCFF-target world.

Employee benefits have become a major budget challenge for charters. From FY14 to FY18, the average charter’s spend on benefits grew from 25% of salaries to 29% of salaries. This means the growth in benefits spending has matched and then surpassed the growth in salaries by nearly 20%. As shown in the figure below, this growth was led by STRS, as the mandatory employer contribution rate doubled over this time from its long-standing 8.25% to 16.28% of salaries for certificated staff. This may very well explain why the rate of new charters that chose not to enroll in CalSTRS rose from its steady 10% to 20% in FY15 and 33% in FY16[2]. PERS has also seen rates that have more than doubled in the past decade, while health and welfare benefits continue to soar across the board.

Special education is notoriously difficult to budget for and is extremely underfunded. Based on our experience and data, we estimate the average charter spent at least $1,300 per ADA on special education in FY18. Charters that are a part of a Special Education Local Planning Area (SELPA) may receive SpEd revenues to cover around half of that, but for charters serving their students as a school of the district, it’s not uncommon for district SpEd encroachment fees to exceed $1,300 per ADA.

Finally, we see facilities costs rising across the state for charters with and without SB740 revenues. Facilities costs for charters are rising at a pace of 8-10% per year, translating to over $600 per ADA net of facilities revenues.

For these areas with inherent risk and uncertainty, conservative budgeting with contingencies is imperative in managing school budgets.

Fiscal Health

These data all come together to form a charter’s overall fiscal standing. Overall, California charters have averaged somewhere between $400-$500 in operating income per ADA in any given year for the past five fiscal years, which has allowed them to steadily grow their fund balances. In FY18, new schools saved between 10-20% of expenses, while older schools were able to accumulate greater reserves for future investments and to manage cash fluctuations. Charters had a median of 80 days cash on hand – a comfortable amount for the average-sized charter – and at least 25% had 30 days cash on hand.

While operating income, fund balance, and cash balance are the main indicators of a charter’s financial stability, variance to budget will also be important to monitor. Continuously tracking budget vs. actuals year-to-date for trends and discrepancies can help to identify clear areas of weakness in a school’s financial or budgeting practices. And of course, managing against any debt covenants or authorizer requirements is imperative to staying in good financial standing.

Averages don’t tell the whole story. Every school has variances from the norm, but it’s essential to be able to explain why and understand what the possible financial implications may be. From individual school practices to the California Department of Education’s new LCAP Budget Summary for Parents, we see a trend toward increasing transparency when it comes to California’s education funding and spending. Adopting a practice of regular communication of school budget information and comparative data like this with parents, community members, school staff, lenders, and others can foster engagement and understanding with stakeholders, empowering those most invested in educating California.

 

[1] http://www.teaching-certification.com/teaching/education-spending-by-state.html

[2] https://calpensions.com/2017/09/11/fewer-charter-schools-choosing-calstrs-pensions/

Data Sources: Unaudited Actuals Financial Data (CDE); Public Schools Data Files (CDE); CALPADS UPC Source File (CDE); SB740 grantee lists (CSFA); County Data (U.S. Census Bureau); EdTec Client Data (Note: only includes financial data for charters whose data is available (n = 588 – 927), and thus is not representative of all charters. Sample sizes and composition vary over time.)

Register for the EdTec/YM&C 2019 Charter Leadership Forums!

Young, Minney & Corr, LLP (YM&C) and EdTec are partnering to bring you the latest fiscal, operational, legal, and political updates, along with expert advice, to help your charter school thrive in these challenging and uncertain times.  All charter developers and operators are invited to attend this annual educational and networking event, which promises to deliver critical information and practical takeaways for your role as a charter school leader.

Event Locations & Dates 

SF Bay Area
Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Sacramento
Wednesday, May 1, 2019

San Diego
Thursday, May 9, 2019

Los Angeles
Friday, May 10, 2019

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