Alleged “improper calculation” and conflation of Special Ed with Special Needs students in accountability plan
By Thomas Himes,Los Angeles Daily News http://bit.ly/1toT0uu
Posted: 08/20/14, 7:37 PM PDT :: Los Angeles Unified officials will have to explain how they spent $700 million to help needy children last year, before county education officials approve a proposed three-year plan for additional state revenue.
In an Aug. 13 letter to the school board president, the chief financial officer of the Los Angeles County’s Office of Education asked district officials to provide their “rationale” in listing $700 million as being spent on children who are poor, English learners or foster kids.
Out of 80 school districts in Los Angeles County, the Office of Education has approved the state-mandated spending plans for all but five, including Los Angeles Unified.
LAUSD officials did not return requests for comment Wednesday.
Two nonprofit watchdog groups, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Public Advocates, complained about the district’s spending plan to both county and district officials.
The groups say LAUSD used “improper” calculations, which will deprive the district’s poorest students of $133 million in services this year and more than $2 billion during the seven-year period in which the state funding formula is in place.
In reviewing LAUSD’s spending plan, ACLU attorney David Sapp, said district officials wrongly counted about $450 million that was spent on special education students.
The district, he said, was already required by federal law to spend that money on special education students and should not count theexpenses as part of the state-mandated effort to direct more funding to students who are poor, living in foster homes or learning English.
“They’re artificially increasing their starting point, which means less of the money they’re going to get will go toward high-needs students,” Sapp said.
If the district’s plan is approved as currently proposed, it would give district officials discretion over how they spend the $137 million this year and the more than $2 billion from the state between now and Fiscal Year 2020-21, Sapp said.
The cash-strapped district is in contentious contract talks with its 35,000-member teacher union. The two sides are about $280 million apart on pay raises. Other bargaining units have agreed to pay-hike deals that are contingent upon school officials finding the funds to pay for them. Those efforts, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy has said, will likely involve cutting plans to expand certain programs.
LAUSD is one of two school districts that the ACLU and Public Advocates raised concerns about. The other school system, Antioch Unified, has similarly been flagged by the Contra Costa County Office of Education, as the watchdog groups say poor children and English learners there will be shortchanged by about $6 million.
Out of 80 school systems that had their spending plans reviewed by the ACLU, Los Angeles Unified was the only one to include spending on special education students, Sapp said.
In many cases, he said, school districts didn’t identify how they came to the dollar amounts spent on poor students and English learners last year, because state law doesn’t require that level of detail.
“For most of the district’s I’ve looked at, we can’t tell what was included in estimates,” Sapp said. “To its credit, LAUSD spelled out what it was spending.”
LAUSD has until Oct. 8 to reach an understanding with the County Office of Education, he said.
“We’re hopeful this will be corrected prior to the October 8th deadline,” Sapp said.