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Lawsuit: LAUSD depriving high-needs students of $2 billion

Craig Clough | July 1, 2015

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A lawsuit filed today accuses the LA Unified school district of planning to deprive low-income, foster youth and English language learners of $2 billion in funds that should be directed to their education.

The lawsuit, filed by ACLU SoCal, Public Advocates and Covington & Burling LLP on behalf of Community Coalition South Los Angeles and LA Unified parent Reyna Frias, says the district is improperly calculating and distributing funds from the Local Control Funding Formula, a 2013 state law intended to direct extra money to high-need students.

While not cited in the lawsuit, it makes similar conclusions to a recent year-long study by UC Berkeley and Communities for Los Angeles Student Success (CLASS) coalition that found that the bulk of the district’s LCFF dollars “has seeped into the district’s base budget with… little apparent regard to the students who generate the new dollars.”

In a statement, the district said: “We are disappointed by the Public Advocates/American Civil Liberties Union’s decision today to file suit against the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“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.”

According to the lawsuit, the district has already misdirected $400 million in 2014-15 and 2015-16 combined, and if not corrected, will amount to $2 billion in funds misdirected away from high needs students over the next 10 years.

“Community Coalition has spent decades working to transform the social and economic conditions in South Los Angeles,” said Alberto Retana, president and CEO of the Community Coalition of South Los Angeles, in a statement. “We want to ensure that our students aren’t short-changed by LAUSD’s budget process. We see too many students in our public schools struggling because they don’t receive the services they need to thrive academically.”

At issue is the district’s accounting practices regarding its LCFF dollars. The lawsuit alleges that by counting prior spending for “special education” as spending on services for low-income students, English language learners and foster youth, it deprives many students of the funds because not every special education students falls into those categories.

“LAUSD’s inclusion of special education funding is improper under the LCFF statute and regulations, and therefore violated mandatory duties created by the statute and regulations,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also states that the “miscalculation affects not only the amount of funding for unduplicated pupils for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years, but also will affect funding in perpetuity because each year’s calculation builds on the prior year’s calculation.”


* Adds district response to the lawsuit.

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