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Report: More time, a lot more money needed for ethnic studies

LA School Report | May 26, 2015

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Supporters of Ethnic Studies rally outside LAUSD headquarters (Credit: Twitter user @Manuel Criollo)

Supporters of Ethnic Studies rally outside LAUSD headquarters (Credit: Twitter user @Manuel Criollo)

When the LA Unified school board passed a resolution that would begin the process of making ethic studies a graduation requirement, it did so without knowing how much it would cost.

But now, after a draft report from the Ethic Studies Committee was released last week, it has some idea, and it is not chump change.

The committee estimates it will cost almost $72.7 million over four years, an amount that far exceeds the initial district estimate of $3.4 million that was tossed around at the November meeting when the resolution was voted on.

“My concern is that there’s no money attached to the resolution,” board member Mónica García said in November before she voted in favor of the resolution. “Whether it’s $3.4 million or $30 million, an action without a budget is nothing.”

As it turns out, $30 million would have been cheap. In the coming school year alone, the committee estimates the cost to be $5.75 million and ratchet up significantly over the next several years. Much of the costs could go toward new textbooks and training staff.

While many district schools already offer ethnic studies courses as electives, LA Unified became only the second district in the state after El Rancho Unified to have an ethnic studies course required for graduation.

The Ethnic Studies Committee consists of district staff, teachers, university professors and others, and its draft report was presented at last week’s Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Committee meeting.

One of the committee’s key recommendations is a significant delay in implementing the new graduation requirements. The board’s November resolution called on ethic studies coursework to be required for graduation for the class of 2019, but the committee wants it to be delayed until the class of 2022, meaning incoming 9th graders in 2018 would be the first to have the new requirement.

Part of the reason for the delay is that creating a pilot program with a graduation requirement is not feasible, the report said. Instead of having a pilot program at 30 schools that would have ethic studies as a requirement, the committee recommended that the pilot program simply offer the courses starting in 2016-17 as electives, not as a requirement.

“The Board Resolution called for the graduation requirement to be piloted, the Committee has determined that this is not a viable option, as it will create varied graduation requirements at Senior High Schools throughout the District,” the report stated.

García wasn’t the only board member who expressed reservations about approving the resolution without an attached cost — although she did end up voting for it. Tamar Galatzan — who lost her bid for reelection last week — was the only other member who voted against the measure. Although she expressed support for the idea of ethnic studies, she said the district was getting ahead of itself and wanted the committee to have time for some initial research and present its findings before the board voted.

“While [ethnic studies] would be a big deal for students, the district has yet to study its impact on schedules, hiring or even its always-precarious finances,” Galatzan wrote in a Los Angeles Daily News op-ed before the resolution was voted on.

But board member Steve Zimmer, who co-sponsored the resolution, argued at the November meeting that haste was needed.

“In some places, there is resistance, but what we do here today will bring down the walls of resistance.” Zimmer said “We are losing kids because we are not connecting to their story.”



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