Lawsuit: LAUSD Misappropriated Funds For High-Need Students
Lawsuit says LAUSD short-changing neediest students
by Mary Plummer | KPCC 89.3 |http://bit.ly/1GRvQ42
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July 1, 2015 12:24 PM | LOS ANGELES (AP) — Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District Wednesday alleging that millions of dollars intended to help low income, foster care and English-learner students were diverted to special education services.
The nonprofit law firm Public Advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California assert the nation’s second largest school counted special education costs in the 2013-14 school year instead as spending on services for the students targeted under a new funding law.
The local control funding formula adopted in 2013 provides districts with higher numbers of low income, foster care and English learner students with additional funds. While districts are given discretion on how to spend the funds, the regulations require they be spent on the designated high-need students in proportion to the increase in funds received. The law is considered one of the nation’s largest public undertakings to equalize educational opportunities.
“LAUSD is breaking its promise to provide my children and millions of other students in the future, with the services they need and the law says they should receive,” said Reyna Frias, a mother of two students who qualify for the additional funds and a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims LAUSD included $450 million in special education spending in its 2013-14 estimate of expenditures tied to the supplemental and concentration grants determined by a district’s number of low-income, foster care and English learner students. As a result, the groups claim LAUSD inflated its baseline spending, “lessening its obligation to spend new funds it will receive to increase or improve services for these students over the course of implementation.”
Public Advocates and the ACLU estimate that as a result high need students were deprived of about $126 million in the 2014-15 school year and $288 million in the next. The groups conclude low-income, foster care and English learner students will miss out on more than $2 billion total by the time the law is fully implemented in 2020-21.
The lawyers are asking Los Angeles Superior Court to require the district to recalculate its previous expenditures and for the county superintendent to reject LAUSD’s annual accountability plan, which it is due to approve by early August.
The suit is believed to be the first to specifically address proportional spending on high need students. The groups said they don’t want LAUSD to set a precedent for other districts.
“If other districts followed LAUSD’s lead the promise of LCFF would evaporate overnight,” said John Affeldt, an attorney for Public Advocates.
In a board meeting in June, LAUSD leaders said local control funding has been spent on increasing the number of counselors, providing additional supports for foster care students, as well as toward the district’s implementation of restorative justice. They also acknowledged spending money toward schools that had been hardest hit by the recession.
July 01, 11:58 AM :: Legal advocates filed a lawsuit Wednesday charging that Los Angeles Unified misused $126 million in state education dollars and funneled it away from the district's neediest students.
The suit, filed Wednesday morning by Public Advocates, ACLU Foundation of Southern California and Covington & Burling LLP in Los Angeles Superior Court, takes the district to task for inappropriately using the funds to pay for special education, services that they say should come out of the district's general fund.
The lawsuit is the first of what could be a broader legal challenge across California examining how school districts use state dollars designated for English-learning, low-income and foster care students.
"This accounting manipulation will shortchange these students over $2 billion over the next decade," said Victor Leung, staff attorney at ACLU Foundation of Southern California.
In a Los Angeles Unified release, the district said it was disappointed by the suit. "We believe that this group has misinterpreted the Local Control Funding Formula. The Legislature clearly granted school districts — which serve predominantly low-income students, foster youth and English language learners — the highest degree of flexibility in determining student program needs."
The dollars in dispute come out of a funding pot called local control funding formula or LCFF — a new state system implemented by Gov. Jerry Brown two years ago to shift funding decisions to the local level and help improve learning for high-needs students.
LCFF has dramatically increased education funding across the state, helping to restore school district budgets that saw deep cuts during the recession.
The legal advocates say LAUSD's special education budget includes LCFF funds that they argue should be used to increase or improve services for the targeted students. Instead, the district is using the new funds to pay for basics, specifically special education, that it is already legally required to cover.
"They are taking credit for what they were already doing," said David Sapp, director of education advocacy for the ACLU of California. "That reduces the amount of new increased or improved services for the three high-needs student groups that LCFF identifies."
In court documents, the plaintiffs say the district's inappropriate LCFF spending amounts to $126 million for the 2014-2015 school year. They also say the district is on track to short-change the targeted students by $288 million for the 2015-2016 school year.
Without a re-calculation, the lawsuit says, high-needs students in the district could lose $2 billion in funding over the next decade.
“LAUSD is breaking its promise to provide my children and millions of other students in the future, with the services they need and the law says they should receive,” said Reyna Frias, a mother of two Los Angeles Unified students who is among the plaintiffs, in a news release. Her children qualify for targeted LCFF funds.
This story has been updated.
LAUSD misspent money on special education that was meant for foster care, English learners, lawsuit alleges
By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News | http://bit.ly/1emLcXt
Posted: 7/1/15, 11:39 AM PDT | Updated: 7/2 :: A lawsuit filed by civil rights groups claims the Los Angeles Unified School District violated state law when it spent hundreds of millions of dollars on special education students.
The state funding was supposed to help students living in poverty or foster care or those struggling to learn the English language, according to the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Public Advocates and the law firm Covington and Burlington LLP.
A non-profit group, Community Coalition of South Los Angeles and an LAUSD parent, Reyna Frias, were claimants in the civil action that alleges $400 million last school year and next is misspent on special education.
“LAUSD is breaking its promise to provide my children and millions of other students in the future with the services they need and the law says they should receive,” said Frias, whose children are among those meant to be helped by the new state funding plan, called Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF.
LAUSD General Counsel Dave Holmquist denied the allegations. The district’s spending, he said, follows state law.
District officials have been working with the civil rights groups in hopes of avoiding a lawsuit, Holmquist said.
“We’re disappointed they chose to file a lawsuit,” Holmquist said.
A recent report from the University of California, Berkeley, and United Way of Greater Los Angeles criticized the district for its spending on special education, while leaving few dollars dedicated to students for whom the increased state funding was meant to help.
Last month, this news organization reported that with nearly 14 percent of all students in special education, LAUSD officials had identified more pupils with learning disabilities than the statewide average and the other four largest school districts in the state.
According to the lawsuit, LAUSD was already obligated to fund special education programs when the state allocated additional funding to help students who are low-income, in foster care or English learners.
“If every district uses its new LCFF funds to pay for things it’s already legally required to do like LAUSD, the promise of California’s new funding law will evaporate overnight,” said John Affeldt, managing attorney with Public Advocates. “LCFF requires that LAUSD use these hundreds of millions of dollars to deliver new and better services to targeted students.”