Education Funding

Lawsuit: L.A. Schools Failing Needy Students, Flouting California Funding Law

By Andrew Ujifusa — July 06, 2015 2 min read
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A California lawsuit filed last week claims that the Los Angeles Unified School District is failing to abide by the state’s Local Control Funding Formula and diverting billions of dollars away from the needy students who should be benefiting from the money.

In Community Coalition of South Los Angeles v. Los Angeles Unified School District, the community coalition says that the district improperly claimed that $450 million in funding for special education students would satisfy the state’s funding formula requirement that districts target English-language learners and students from low-income backgrounds with additional money provided by the state.

It’s the first time that a district has been sued for failing to meet the Local Control Funding Formula, according to EdSource. The formula is a landmark change to California K-12 finance that was supported and approved by Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, in 2013. The formula removes most state-directed funding programs, provides a funding increase to public schools over eight years, and gives districts more power over how they spend their funds. District leaders, in turn, must spell out in Local Control Accountability Plans how they plan to meet the state requirement to provide additional support for ELLs and socioeconomically disadvantaged students, as well as students in foster care.

The lawsuit states that the services required by the new funding formula for targeted student populations must be in addition to services that they and other students already receive. Here’s a key portion of the suit:

“Under federal and state law, a school district must provide special education services to any student with a qualifying disability, regardless of whether she is low-income, an English-language learner or a foster youth. Because special education services are not targeted to unduplicated students [ELL and other students qualifying for extra resources under LCFF, which counts such students only once], 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.”

If the district is permitted to proceed, over the next decade, $2 billion could be improperly diverted away from students who qualify for extra resources under the state formula, according to a statement by Public Advocates, a San Francisco law firm representing the plaintiffs. CORRECTION: My initial post misidentified the location of Public Advocates.

Former L.A. schools boss John Deasy has said, however, that there’s no prohibition in the formula on using such money to satisfy the district’s responsibility to ELLs, socioeconomically needy students, and children in foster care. It cited a Los Angeles County Office of Education letter from last year as proof that the district’s plan had official backing.

As EdSource notes, if the L.A. district loses this case, it could cause other districts to rethink or alter their local accountability plans. Of course, the community coalition claims that the district has already set a bad precedent in using special education dollars to meet the state formula’s requirements—a precedent it wants to change.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.