The California State Board of Education has unanimously approved an innovative pilot project that will give the Long Beach Unified School District much needed flexibility in the way it spends certain funds. The aim is to improve student achievement as quickly and efficiently as possible. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell proposed the initiative to the state board after consultation with Long Beach. The pilot project is part of a new partnership between LBUSD and the Fresno Unified School District, which are the third and fourth largest school districts in California. The two school districts have committed to sharing knowledge and resources to increase graduation rates and prepare students for college and the working world. “This is the first of many steps we’re taking to give our schools greater flexibility to use funds more efficiently,” said Christopher J. Steinhauser, superintendent of schools for the Long Beach Unified School District. “Ultimately, this flexibility will allow us to help more students achieve at higher levels. It’s a bold step by the state superintendent. We deeply appreciate Jack O’Connell’s support.” The state board specifically approved two waiver requests. One affected middle and high school supplemental counseling, allowing Long Beach to expand this service to sixth grade. LBUSD’s own Academic and Career Success for All Initiative calls for this expansion. Another waiver on instructional materials provides the flexibility to use these funds for technology equipment once basic textbook and other requirements have been met. This effort stems from Long Beach’s own Technology Master Plan. Long Beach drafted both waivers in consultation with parents and teachers. The move by the state comes as educators and parents statewide, including in Long Beach, have staged rallies protesting proposed state cuts to education. During lean budget times, flexibility on spending is critical to helping school districts live within their means while remaining focused on student achievement. “There is no silver bullet to closing the achievement gap that is leaving too many of our poor, Latino, and African American students behind their peers who are white or Asian,” O’Connell said. “But some districts have implemented effective practices that we should study and try to replicate. I am pleased that Long Beach and Fresno unified school districts are willing to work together toward closing the gap and improving student achievement. I hope that all districts in our state will benefit from the best practices borne by this partnership.” The waivers approved by the state board will maintain all state and national accountability requirements but give both districts more flexibility in how they spend restricted funds. Combined, the Long Beach and Fresno districts serve more than 150,000 students, most of whom are low-income, students of color, and/or English learners. The school districts have committed to capitalize on the knowledge they both have gained from their continuous improvement efforts, including Long Beach’s participation in Broad Foundation programs, and Fresno’s work with the Center for Reform of School Systems. The Fresno-Long Beach partnership has three major goals: • achieving a 100 percent graduation rate, • preparing all graduates for success in higher education or a career with significant economic growth potential, and • helping all students meet California’s academic standards at the proficient level or better with a special focus on raising the achievement of large numbers of English learners.