Lawsuit filed over use of LCFF dollars in L.A. Unified

?????????????????The Local Control Funding Formula enacted by the Legislature in 2013 at Gov. Jerry Brown’s behest was billed as a great way to get additional help to English-learners and foster children in California public schools. It changed the formula under which state funds are allocated to get more dollars to districts with large numbers of such students, with plenty of strings attached to make sure — in theory — that the extra resources specifically helped the two categories of struggling students.

But in January, the Legislative Analyst’s Office warned that none of the 50 state school districts it surveyed — including California’s 11 largest districts — had adequate safeguards in place to deal with the influx of new funds. Now the first of what could be many lawsuits has been filed alleging LCFF dollars are being taken for uses not permitted by the 2013 law. The L.A. School Report website has details:

The lawsuit, filed by ACLU SoCal, Public Advocates, and Covington & Burling LLP on behalf of Community Coalition South Los Angeles and L.A. Unified parent Reyna Frias, says the district … has already misdirected $400 million in 2014-15 and 2015-16 combined, and if not corrected, will amount to $2 billion in funds misdirected away from high needs students over the next 10 years. …

 

At issue is the district’s accounting practices regarding its LCFF dollars. The lawsuit alleges that by counting prior spending for “special education” as spending on services for low-income students, English language learners and foster youth, it deprives many students of the funds because not every special education students falls into those categories.

 

“LAUSD’s inclusion of special education funding is improper under the LCFF statute and regulations, and therefore violated mandatory duties created by the statute and regulations,” the lawsuit states.

ACLU has history of successfully suing LAUSD

ACLU.socal.The ACLU’s involvement is notable because of the group’s long record of successfully challenging L.A. Unified’s actions in court. The cases include suing over extreme teacher turnover at heavily minority schools; “last-hired, first-fired” teacher retention policies; and the treatment of gay students by teachers and staff at one school.

The ACLU has a pending lawsuit against LAUSD and the state over disparities in teaching time between affluent schools and those in poorer communities.

Its latest lawsuit was foreshadowed by the release last month of a UC Berkeley study showing L.A. Unified was commingling LCFF funds with its operating budget and prioritizing new hiring instead of programs to specifically help English-language learners and foster children.

Among the findings:

Despite pro-equity goals, we found that the bulk of LCFF investment dollars (the $145 million) was not distributed according to any transparent needs index. Furthermore, fiscal priority was placed on restoring adult staff positions often not directly tied to instruction, especially the dollars allocated to elementary schools. …

 

The District largely ignored their equity formula in distributing investment dollars to elementary schools. A policy decision was made internally to allocate a librarian position, instructional specialists, and assistant principals to most elementary schools, regardless of the TSP count. … This appears to reflect the District’s priority placed on re-staffing adult positions, rather than stemming from any distinct strategy for narrowing achievement gaps. …

 

[The] bulk of LCFF dollars has seeped into the district’s base budget with … little apparent regard to the students who generate the new dollars.

Black lawmakers already had warned about diversion

As CalWatchdog reported in March, the possibility of LCFF funds being diverted is a major issue for the California Legislative Black Caucus. In January, speaking on behalf of the caucus, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, testified at a state Board of Education meeting that “any authority for the use of supplemental or concentration grants to schoolwide and districtwide expenditures must clearly link the services to demonstrated effectiveness in increasing student achievement and closing achievement gaps, and demonstrate that the expenditures are proven effective for ‘concentrations’ of unduplicated children in schools in the district where concentrations exist.”

According to the UC Berkeley study and the allegations in the ACLU lawsuit, that’s not what is happening in California’s largest school district.

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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