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Here are Latino education advocates’ top priorities and how they fared in LAUSD’s budget

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | June 22, 2017

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Members of Reclaim Our Schools LA outside the LAUSD board room last week after the board approved the community schools resolution. (Courtesy: Reclaim Our Schools LA)

With this week’s approval of a $7.5 billion budget for LA Unified’s upcoming school year, advocates in Los Angeles for Latino education highlighted their priorities to best support Latino students’ success. Here are some of their top goals and how they fared in the budget:

  • Community schools
  • Safe schools, including restorative justice programs
  • Title I funding for schools serving the lowest-income families
  • Access to libraries and after-school programs

Community schools

Latino advocates applaud the district’s new commitment to community schools, an educational approach in which the neighborhood school is a hub for the surrounding community, providing students with extracurricular and wellness services.

A resolution sponsored by board President Steve Zimmer and Ref Rodriguez that was unanimously approved last week creates a pathway for district schools that want to become community schools and a team of district staff to direct it.

The new budget does not set aside specific funding for community schools, but the resolution states that federal funds can be used.

Ana de Jesus, a Polytechnic High School parent and member of the Reclaim Our Schools LA coalition, said in a news release on the resolution, “Community schools offer opportunities for schools to incorporate more pupil service staff and wraparound services like health clinics, after-school programs, and counseling tailored to the needs of our student population. We look forward to more community schools in LAUSD.”

School safety and restorative justice

Another priority for Latinos is safe schools and a continued commitment to a discipline program called restorative justice, which encourages positive behavior by students and has drastically reduced suspensions.

 “We know that school police and school safety have a substantial budget of $60 million, and now and into the future we’d like to see a similar investment in restorative justice. That goes into creating a positive school climate for all students,” said Maria Brenes, executive director of InnerCity Struggle, an East LA-based organization promoting educational justice, particularly for Latino students.  

The new budget for restorative justice is $10.8 million for next school — the same as last year — and includes $6.5 million for “school climate and restorative justice” plus $3.7 million for counselors working to implement the program at schools. So far 549 schools — a little more than half of all district schools — have restorative justice programs, according to district data.

In comparison, the budget for school police next year is $58 million.

“If the school district truly values restorative justice and the positive impact it has on students, parents, and school staff, then we need to see an increase of this budget in the future,” said Brenes in a letter sent last Friday to the school board and the superintendent.

Title I funding for schools

Two school board members are trying to move more federal Title I dollars to schools that serve the highest poverty levels, but rather than vote last week on it, the board voted to postpone it until September. Title I funds are federal dollars that are allocated to schools with high percentages of students from low-income families.

Brenes of InnerCity Struggle supports the move to realign Title I funds.

“It is a very important discussion to have and a very important standard to set for the district, which not only serves a majority of students living in poverty but in concentrated areas where we need greater investments, and that resolution addresses that,” Brenes said.

“If the resolution is approved, we will be monitoring that the district implements it. If that does not happen, then we will continue to push for fair distribution of funding for high-need schools.”

While Elmer Roldan, director of education programs for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, congratulated Superintendent Michelle King and her team for presenting “a balanced budget,” he stressed that more funds need to be directed to the worst-off areas.

He also believes that parents in high-needs areas deserve to understand that not all funds are “being distributed with equity.”

“We’re still concerned some of the investments that fall under ‘investments to support targeted youth’ section of the budget are actually blanket allocations given to all schools, regardless of their high-need student population. We urge you to revisit these priorities to ensure that all students have access to a quality education.”

After-school programs, libraries, and other services

“We are always looking for more funds to have librarians, mental health services, more counselors in every school. These are things that need to be always considered first in the budget,” said José Lara, who formed the Ethnic Studies Now Coalition.

However, the school board on Tuesday approved the dismissal of 114 school support staff, including 30 library assistants, mostly in elementary schools. That will result in 43 school libraries without staff.

After-school programs are another concern for Latino families, Lara said. “These are the basic programs that every school should have.”

The budget for the next school year includes $7.3 million for after-school programs, which had suffered from steady funding cuts in previous years.

Another concern for some Latino students is including ethnic studies in the academic curriculum, Lara said.

“The district was supposed to implement the resolution approved to include ethnic studies courses, but so far is not being implemented in all schools. In fact, some schools have removed those courses. We need the district’s leadership so that our students have the opportunity to have an education that reflects their culture and their real life,” said Lara, who also suggested that more schools offer bilingual education programs.

The school board on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution called “Establishing a Commitment to Bilingual Literacy for All” to support the expansion of dual language programs, which the district already offers in Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, Arabic, Armenian, and French.

The resolution directs the superintendent to convene an advisory board to study the resources, training, and partnerships needed to make biliteracy for all a reality. The goal is to attain biliteracy for all students, with the class of 2032 being the first to graduate with all members able to read and write in a world language. Children who will graduate high school in 2032 are roughly 3 years old now.

Sarah Favot contributed to this report.

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