Date of Award

Spring 2023

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Education, PhD


School of Educational Studies

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Kyo Yamashiro

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Thomas Luschei

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Lucrecia Santibañez

Terms of Use & License Information

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Rights Information

© 2023 Adrienne Ortega-Magallanes


Complex adaptive systems, Decentralization, Decision-making, Principal, Subsidarity

Subject Categories

Education | Educational Leadership | Education Economics | Education Policy


The 2013 implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula and Local Control Accountability Plan in California granted school districts the opportunity to create their own expense plans based on student needs, with the aim of returning decision-making to those closest to students. Within subsidiarity is the belief that those at the least centralized decision-making level should have the dignity and freedom to decisions that affect the problem at its source, in this case, how to improve student achievement. It is argued here that principals, who have a strong indirect link to student achievement, are the least centralized. To explore the ways in which local control influences school site principals’ decision-making and the perception they have of their decision-making authority, this explanatory mixed methods approach employed a survey and follow-up interviews to further interpret the survey results through the lens of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS). For principals to be empowered within a decentralized framework outlined by LCFF, particular conditions must exist. Therefore, during the survey and the interviews, questions were asked of school site principals to elicit information about their perceptions of the following five themes within their district, which can be indicators of success with decentralized educational agencies: 1) systems or structures that are stable (Hanushek et al., 2013; Smylie & Wenzel, 2003; Cha, 2016; Sharpe, 1996), 2) clearly defined responsibilities (Wößmann, 2003; Cha, 2016), 3) principal leadership (Bryk et al., 1999), 4) distributive leadership and local decision-making (Smylie & Wenzel, 2003; Bryk et al., 1999; Falch and Fischer, 2012) guided by frameworks, targets, and accountability (Cavallo et al., 2016; Clark, 2009; Wößmann, 2003), 5) and building the capacity of the community (Bryk et al., 1999; Muta, 2000; Sharpe, 1996). The survey respondents consisted of 37 school site administrators serving in small, medium, or large unified school districts, while the interview respondents consisted of a sub-sample of the survey participants, totaling 11 site principals and two district-office administrators to provide context for the systems in which the principals worked. The survey, interview, LCAP document analysis, and LCAP meeting information were integrated into a joint display to draw out additional insights. Based on the findings, there are six recommendations that impact practices regarding the LCFF. 1) LEAs should support local-decision making and distributive leadership practices; 2) external influences should be strategically and consistently managed; 3) create formalized structures to obtain external resources to support individual school sites’ goals; 4) develop and offer professional development to principals that cover state laws, board policies, and regulations that can affect school planning and budgeting decisions; 5) establish clear feedback mechanisms to ensure that connections between district staff, including the superintendent, enable the reciprocation of information which facilitates improvements; and 6) principals should be actively engaged in developing the LCAP.