Why California Should Retire the Free or Reduced-Price Meal Measure—and What the State Should Do Next

Commentary authors
Michelle Spiegel
Thurston Domina
Andrew Penner

In 2013–14, California enacted an ambitious—and essential—reform to improve educational equity by directing state resources to districts and schools that educate large numbers of economically disadvantaged students. The reform is called the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF); it allocates funding to school districts based on student characteristics such as socioeconomic status and provides greater flexibility to use the allocated funds than the previous school funding formula allowed. In addition to the LCFF, which is based on average daily attendance (ADA), districts receive funds based on the proportion of students they serve who are English learners, income eligible for free or reduced-price meals, and foster youth. The equity multiplier, a new policy passed in 2023, is designed to provide even more funding for disadvantaged students.

The Racial School Climate Gap

Within-School Disparities in Students’ Experiences of Safety, Support, and Connectedness
Commentary author
Adam Voight

A new study delves into racial and ethnic disparities in academic achievement within California middle schools and their correlation with school climate, a concept encompassing safety, relationships, and participation opportunities. Analyzing data from the California School Climate, Health, and Learning Survey (Cal-SCHLS) across 754 middle schools, the research focuses on Black-White and Hispanic-White racial climate gaps. It identifies differences in students' perceptions of safety, relationships, and participation based on race within the same schools. Notably, Black students reported lower levels of safety and relationships compared to White peers, while Hispanic students experienced lower safety, relationships, and participation opportunities than their White counterparts. The study also links larger racial achievement gaps to corresponding disparities in perceived safety, relationships, and participation. It emphasizes the importance of considering subgroup-specific climates instead of a general school-level assessment. Particularly relevant for California's education system, which integrates school climate measures into its accountability systems, the study highlights the need for targeted action plans addressing diverse subgroup experiences to promote educational equity.