Student Well-Being

Student Protests to Cost L.A. Schools Aid

By Catherine Gewertz — February 04, 2004 2 min read
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The Los Angeles school district is bracing for the loss of about $1 million in state aid because of the absences of about 40,000 students who took part in a protest walkout in December, officials said.

The students joined thousands of Californians who stayed home from school and work on Dec. 12 to protest the state legislature’s recent repeal of a law that allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses.

Organized by Latino leaders, the boycott drew widespread participation by Latino students, who make up nearly three-fourths of the 728,000 students in the nation’s second-largest district.

For each student absence, however, the district loses state funds, because a large chunk of the money school districts receive is based on averaged student-attendance figures they submit periodically to the state.

Lorenzo Tyner, the budget director for the Los Angeles Unified School District, said the district estimated its losses by comparing student-absence figures on the day of the boycott, a Friday, with figures on a Friday in mid-December 2002.

In 2002, about 30,000 students were absent from school on a given Friday, compared with 80,000 on the Friday of the boycott this year, he said. Surmising that about 10,000 of this year’s absences were likely due to influenza, the district estimated that 40,000 were caused by the boycott, he said.

The district likely will not feel the effects of the lost money for a few months, until the numbers are made final, but the loss is likely to aggravate an already tight budget outlook for fiscal 2004-05, Mr. Tyner said.

Based on California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed state education budget, the district is projecting a $500 million shortfall in its $6 billion operating budget, he said.

While the district’s board of education had unanimously supported the law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, its president still urged teachers and students to come to school instead of participating in the boycott.

‘Learning Opportunity’

Board President Jose Huizar issued a statement last month saying that the day could be “a learning opportunity” for students, who could “reflect upon and discuss the contributions of immigrants to this country and the role of civic participation in policymaking” in their classrooms on boycott day.

Latino leaders who helped organize the boycott defended the students’ right to take part, even if it meant a loss of funding for their schools.

Nativo V. Lopez, the president of the Mexican-American Political Association, a Los Angeles- based activist group, said that the denial of driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants is an issue of critical importance to California families because a quarter or more of the state’s Mexican student population might never be able to drive legally.

“They have every right in the world to participate in a civic movement for their rights and the rights of their parents,” he said in an interview.

Calling for Latinos to stay home from work, school, and shopping was intended to send a message to Sacramento, the state capital, that “a day without Mexicans would cause economic havoc on the economy of California, and that we need policies that respect them,” Mr. Lopez said.

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