Photo and story by Claudia J. Gonzalez

By: Claudia Gonzalez
Published: June 10, 2015

Maria Vasquez, mother of four Merced students, is always on the lookout for ways to get involved with her children’s education.
“I’m here because I want my kids to be educated and successful, but I also want them to be good people whom love and help their community,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez was one of more than 50 diverse Merced parents and community members who participated in last week’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) community workshop, organized by a coalition of local organizations and held at the Boys and Girls Club.

Parents were given an overview of LCFF, the landmark 2013 education law that funnels additional funding into school districts based on the number of English-language learners, foster youth, and other needy students.

After gaining basic information about the need for parental involvement in LCFF, attendees broke into groups to brainstorm outreach strategies to shape local community engagement in the implementation of LCFF.

Eduardo Aguilar, an Education Policy Associate with Children Now in Sacramento, made the trip to Merced to lead the workshop.

“LCFF is a big topic right now,” said Aguilar. “My job is to help local efforts by connecting them with adequate information.”

According to Aguilar, misinformation and a lack of clarity are two big issues in the implementation of LCFF. Aguilar also contended that school districts have fallen behind in creating a culture of engagement among parents, though the state requires schools to seek input from parents on how to spend LCFF dollars.

“A culture shifts needs to occur in order to build leadership opportunities for parents,” he said.

As Merced schools lie within one of the poorest counties in the state, many students fit within one or more of the groups eligible for additional funding under LCFF. According to Kidsdata.org, 79% of students in Merced County are eligible for free or reduced price lunch, available for children whose family’s income is 185% or less of the federal poverty line, or about $44,000 for a family of four in 2013-2014.

“There are a lot of kids in this county that fall under these categories,” said Claudia Corchado, Program Manager at CCROPP and member of the BHC Schools Action Team. “Having workshops like this is very important because we are giving parents tools and helping them be prepared for next year.”

Tania Mendoza and Marcos Alcaraz, parents from South Merced, said they attended the workshop because they wanted to be better informed about how LCFF funding can help provide their children with better opportunities to prepare them for college.

“Our biggest goal in life is to ensure our children attend a university,” said Alcaraz in Spanish. “We are in this journey with them, so if it means attending events likes this, we’ll be at every single one of them.”

Liliana Prado, 28, board president of the Merced Organizing Project (MOP), described the necessity of having inclusive events that are focused on building the leadership capacity of parents and students, instead of more formal school meetings. Corchado agreed.

“We [community organizations] already have relationships with community members so we are here to help ease the process,” Corchado said. “Ultimately, it is up to parents and students to decide how school districts allocate funds. I really hope parents are now excited about the potential of LCFF.”

“Our goal today was to plant a seed,” added Aguilar. “We’ve left parents with concrete ideas that they can act on and talk about.”

Parents who attended last Wednesday’s event left with a plan of action designed to keep them involved, including information on upcoming meetings. LCFF information was available in several languages, something which is not always readily available to Merced’s diverse community.

“This event was very helpful,” Vasquez said. “I came in not know much about LCFF, and now I am prepared to ask the right questions at my children’s schools.”

The workshop was organized in a joint effort between the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program (CCROPP), Children Now, and the Building Healthy Communities’ School Action Team. The Schools Action Team plans to host additional workshops on LCFF. For more information, contact Claudia Corchado at (209) 383-4242 or at claudia@unitedwaymerced.org.