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Groups pushing ‘need index’ helping LAUSD shape the budget

Vanessa Romo | June 17, 2014

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Alberto Retana Community Coalition LAUSD

Alberto Retana, Executive Vice President of Community Coalition

Among the challenges poor kids in south LA are forced to overcome just to meet the most basic learning conditions in schools, are cockroaches.

Not in their classrooms. In their bodies.

LA Unified students in neighborhoods like South Gate and Watts regularly visit health clinics to have the insects that crawl inside their ears, plucked out,  Alberto Retana, Executive Vice President of Community Coalition, one of three groups that developed the Student Need Index, told LA School Report.

“How can you learn in a classroom if you have a cockroach in your ear that stems from poor housing conditions in the community?” he asked rhetorically. “You can’t. There is a link there.”

And it’s one of several links Retana hopes Superintendent John Deasy makes today when the LA schools chief unveils his plan to distribute $837 million in supplemental and concentration funding for three groups of students with specific needs for academic achievement — foster youth, English learners, and those from lower-income households — to the district’s neediest schools.

Deasy has been instructed by the board to devise a formula using his own set of indicators and data to target the money where the need is greatest and where it will have the biggest impact on academic outcomes.

The board approved the idea of establishing an index to allocate money in a way that would more faithfully meet the spirit of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), based on research by three community groups — Community Coalition, the Advancement Project and InnerCityStruggles.

The schools were identified by calculating a dozen factors, including neighborhood conditions that can affect the lives of students, like gun injuries; access to childcare and asthma rates, graduation rates and 3rd and 8th grade test scores. They found the district’s 242 “highest need” schools are located in south and east Los Angeles and the Pacoima area in the San Fernando Valley.

“He is going to use our index as a model, but he doesn’t have to follow it,” Retana explained.

One aspect he expects Deasy will hang onto is “the notion that if you’re a foster kid and an English Learner and poor, that should count three times as opposed to once because the conditions are unique and have a greater impact on a child’s learning.”

Under LCFF, the grants are not duplicated if a student qualifies in more than one category.

Deasy initially opposed establishing additional metrics to divert more money to the districts poorest and poorest performing schools, arguing that they were unnecessary because the district was already considering several poverty factors for the 2014-2015 budget.

But in less than two months, as the community groups mounted an intense campaign to convince the board more specific metrics should be considered, he became a champion of the community groups’ measures.

Retana says one of the reasons Deasy and five of the six board members — Board president Richard Vladovic, Monica Garcia, Steve Zimmer, Bennett Kayser and Monica Ratliff — all came around to support the index because it is tied to outcomes. Tamar Galatzan was the lone dissenter.

“This is not a blank check,” Retana said. “The district needs to demonstrate, over the course of three years, that our high needs schools are improving, and that makes this unique. It hasn’t been done before.”

Another reason was the undeniable public support from LA Unified families. Between February and April the coalition gathered 4,300 signatures on a petition supporting the index, then delivered it Vladovic’s office (though he wasn’t there to accept it).

“We built the community base and pressure that created the space for [board members] who are often on opposing sides, to say, you know what? on this particular issue I’m going to do the right thing,” Retana said.

Without thousands of signatures being collected, he added, it never would have happened.

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