L.A. schools’ use of funds faulted

Most of state fund­ing meant for high-need stu­dents went to dis­trict pro­grams.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Teresa Watan­abe teresa.watan­abe@la­times.com

Too lit­tle goes to high­need stu­dents, a study f inds.

In the first full year with a sig­nif­i­cant state fund­ing boost, Los An­ge­les Uni­fied ad­min­is­tra­tors failed to con­sis­tently fun­nel the dol­lars to the high-need stu­dents they were meant for, a new study found.

The re­port by UC Berke­ley found that L.A. Uni­fied of­fi­cials spent more than half of the $820 mil­lion re­ceived for the 2014-15 school year on spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion, li­brary aides and as­sis­tant prin­ci­pals — although the money was specif­i­cally meant for stu­dents who are low-in­come, learn­ing English and in foster care, un­der the state’s new school fund­ing sys­tem.

In ad­di­tion, the re­port found that school ad­min­is­tra­tors lacked a “co­her­ent strat­egy” for link­ing their fund­ing choices to spe­cific im­prove­ments for those par­tic­u­lar stu­dents, said Bruce Fuller, a UC Berke­ley ed­u­ca­tion pro­fes­sor and the study’s lead au­thor.

The re­port, con­ducted on be­half of United Way of Greater Los An­ge­les and funded by the Cal­i­for­nia En­dow­ment, is sched­uled to be re­leased Mon­day as the L.A. Board of Ed­u­ca­tion pre­pares to open de­bate on the 2015-16 bud­get.

“They’ve funded a smat­ter­ing of new po­si­tions and they’re sprin­kling new dol­lars on the schools, but there’s been no con­ver­sa­tion with prin­ci­pals about how the var­i­ous threads of new fund­ing can be wo­ven to­gether into a school-wide re­form strat­egy to lift lowachiev­ing kids,” Fuller said.

Edgar Zazueta, L.A. Uni­fied’s chief lob­by­ist and point per­son on the new fund­ing sys­tem, said the dis­trict’s ef­forts were “still very much a work in progress” and started at a time when state rules on us­ing the dol­lars had not yet been fi­nal­ized. But he de­fended the spend­ing choices as an ap­pro­pri­ate use of the money.

Among other things, he said, the money has paid for new in­struc­tional aides for stu­dents learn­ing English, coun­selors for foster youth and co­or­di­na­tors to shift school dis­ci­pline prac­tices from puni­tive to more thera- peu­tic ap­proaches, known as restora­tive jus­tice.

Zazueta said that about 86% of L.A. Uni­fied stu­dents are low-in­come, learn­ing English or in foster care, so state rules al­low funds tar­geted for them to be used for dis­trict-wide pro­grams such as the restora­tion of li­brary aides and as­sis­tant prin­ci­pals at most el­e­men­tary schools. Of­fi­cials made those spend­ing choices in a de­lib­er­ate ef­fort to off­set some of the mas­sive cuts at the dis­trict’s hard­est hit cam­puses — cuts that to­taled about $2.7 bil­lion be­tween 2009 and 2013, the re­port noted.

“We would ar­gue we did have a strate­gic vi­sion: Let’s re­store fund­ing to schools hit hard­est by the eco­nomic re­ces­sion,” Zazueta said.

He added that the dis­trict stood by its de­ci­sion to spend $400 mil­lion of the funds on spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents, 80% of whom fall into the tar­geted cat­e­gories.

Maria Brenes, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of In­nerCity Strug­gle, an East L.A. ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion, praised dis­trict in­vest­ments for foster youth, stu­dents learn­ing English and more ef­fec­tive dis­ci­pline prac­tices. But she and Fuller said they were dis­ap­pointed that LAUSD of­fi­cials had not fully fol­lowed the school board’s 2014 di­rec­tive to al­lo­cate dol­lars to schools with the high­est needs based on the num­ber of tar­geted stu­dents and fac­tors such as sus­pen­sions and neigh­bor­hood vi­o­lence.

The dis­trict ap­pears to have fully ap­plied that needs test only to high schools, Brenes and Fuller said.

All sides agreed that a key pri­or­ity was to train prin­ci­pals and staff on how to ef­fec­tively use the state dol­lars to boost achieve­ment for their need­i­est stu­dents. The re­port found “con­fu­sion and dis­may” among many prin­ci­pals, who said they re­ceived lit­tle if any dis­trict guid­ance on how to achieve those goals.

Fuller, how­ever, said that dis­trict of­fi­cials had been ex­ceed­ingly co­op­er­a­tive and open in sup­ply­ing data and en­gag­ing in con­ver­sa­tions about the process. “There is abun­dant good­will,” he said.

Zazueta said dis­trict of­fi­cials would take the feed­back “very much to heart” as they fi­nal­ize the 2015-16 bud­get, which in­cludes $1.1 bil­lion in tar­geted funds.

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