Monday, June 15, 2015


By CHRISTINE ARMARIO Associated Press from the San Diego UT |

12:25 p.m. June 15, 2015  ::  LOS ANGELES (AP) — A new stream of state funds intended to provide greater educational equity for at-risk students in Los Angeles is largely going for other purposes, a study released Monday found.

The study by University of California, Berkeley researchers looked at implementation of the new local control funding formula by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

It found that most of those dollars seeped into the district's base budget, largely to offset special education costs. Priority was placed on restoring staff positions — a decision the researchers found somewhat reasonable given the deep budget cuts schools endured during the recession.

Still, the first full year of implementation "has been dedicated largely to rebuilding the status quo" rather than devising a new strategy, the study authors wrote.

Local control funding was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013 and is considered one of the nation's largest public undertakings to equalize educational opportunities. Districts with higher numbers of low-income, foster care and English language learner students are provided additional funds.

Los Angeles Unified, the state's largest public school district, is slated to receive an additional $1.1 billion in local control funding for the upcoming school year.

In 2014, the district passed a resolution requiring the creation of an index identifying the neediest schools as a way to determine how funds should be distributed.

University of California researchers found money was allocated for foster care student supports, new instructional aides for English learners and toward implementing restorative justice and decriminalizing student discipline.

But the bulk of the money intended to aid disadvantaged students wasn't distributed according to any transparent needs index.

"Fiscal priority was placed on restoring adult staff positions often not directly tied to instruction, especially the dollars allocated to elementary schools," the study noted.

Bruce Fuller, a professor at UC Berkeley and one of the study authors, said a handful of surveys analyzing other California districts indicate Los Angeles Unified isn't the only one using the governor's new funding in ways that aren't directly related to disadvantaged students.

"What's important about LAUSD is that it's so big," Fuller said.

One of the intentions of local control is to let districts decide how best to use the money, but there are still some accountability measures in place. Districts are required to provide an updated accountability plan each year.

While the dollars do not have to directly follow each at-risk student, there is a clause that states districts must show funds are proportionately spent in support for the children whose numbers help determine the revenue received from the state.

"In terms of accountability, the fact that the district staff ignored the equity resolution when it allocated dollars in elementary and middle schools, that raises a sticky question around whether the district has violated the so-called 'proportionality clause,'" Fuller said.

Districts are required to disclose how the funds will be spent each year, but Fuller said there is concern that there isn't a mechanism in place at Los Angeles Unified to determine whether those investments are helping close achievement gaps and lift the most disadvantaged students.

"They're undertaking a lot of virtuous initiatives," Fuller said, "but there's no single strategy for evaluating what works and what doesn't work."

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