Telecommunications manufacturer David Welch and his organization, Students Matter, the group that brought the original anti-teacher-tenure lawsuit Vergara v. California, and Campbell Brown, the former CNN anchor whose Partnership for Educational Justice has been bringing copycat anti-tenure lawsuits across the country, allege that schools are failing to serve their poorest students because tenure is protecting tired, old, lazy teachers and assigning such teachers to the schools that serve children in poor neighborhoods. Never mind that what seems to be happening instead is that very poor children are being assigned the least experienced teachers. And never mind that a shortage of dollars in big city school districts really does seem to be a primary problem.
A year-old report from Bruce Fuller and other researchers at the University of California at Berkeley explains that in Los Angeles, “Sacramento cut spending on K-12 education by one-fifth statewide in the years following 2008—in the wake of the Great Recession. The impact on LAUSD (the Los Angeles Unified School District)… was immense, losing approximately $2.7 billion between 2009 and 2013. But the state has instituted a new Local Control Funding Formula for the purpose of supporting the education of poor children and children learning English. And it turns out there are serious questions about how the new money is being spent by the Los Angeles Unified School District, which needs to address years’ of unmet needs.
The California Department of Education just sided with Public Advocates, a California public interest law firm, which had filed a complaint against LAUSD on behalf of the Community Coalition of South Los Angeles, a complaint charging that the school district is not investing, as required by the new state funding formula, enough new dollars in the education of very poor children and English learners. The complaint says the district has claimed to be increasing spending on vulnerable students while it has instead been counting special education expenditures as though they were providing additional funding for poor students.
Here is the California Department of Education’s recent finding, according to Ed Source: “L.A. Unified improperly attributed $450 million in benefits for special education students as also contributing to meeting the requirements of the Local Control Funding Formula, which is weighted to provide additional services for children in greatest need. The department found that by counting the same expenditure twice, the district spent less than required on high-needs students.”
The L.A. Unified School District faces severe financial stress from declining enrollment, from the demands of health care and pension agreements, and also from pressure from the philanthropically funded Great Public Schools rapidly to expand an already large charter school sector. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that Great Public Schools just released a “glossy, 16-page plan (that) identifies 10 low-income, low-achievement neighborhoods as areas of focus.” According to Howard Blume of the Los Angeles Times, Great Public Schools also just launched a series of grants to promote its agenda to expand charters: “A group that has vowed to start high-quality schools across Los Angeles on Thursday announced its first grant recipients: a charter school that is expanding, an after-school and summer enrichment program for children, and an organization that recruits recent college graduates for two-year teaching stints. None of the money went to the Los Angeles Unified School District, although it’s likely to benefit from the teacher-recruitment effort… The reform effort grew out of a preliminary, confidential proposal, circulated last year among philanthropists, to move half of L.A. Unified’s students into charter schools over eight years. The proposal, which called for building 260 new charter schools, was developed under the auspices of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and provoked widespread controversy when The Times obtained a leaked copy and wrote about it. The plan, however, evolved over time, the group says, and the current strategy is to support any kind of successful school, including those in L.A. Unified.” Many people remain skeptical about whether there has, in actuality, been a change of plan or whether the group has merely shifted its marketing strategy, while it seeks to privatize the system.
Meanwhile, California’s state school superintendent Tom Torlakson, “has given Los Angeles Unified a one-year reprieve from… (the recent) ruling requiring the district to spend potentially hundreds of millions of additional dollars on English learners and low-income children to comply with the state’s new school funding law.” EdSource explains that, “In L.A. Unified, nearly 14 percent of students have disabilities, and four of five of them are considered high-needs students under the funding formula.” The district begged for the reprieve after calculating, “that it would have had to spend an additional $245 million in 2016-17 and $395 million in 2017-18 to comply with the ruling. Doing so would create a financial crisis and force the district to raise class sizes significantly and to lay off or transfer 2000 teachers to schools predominantly serving high-needs students.”
Public Advocates is protesting the delay. Its goal is to force the district to provide the resources required by the state’s new funding formula to support students learning English and those living in poverty. Last year’s report by Bruce Fuller and researchers at the University of California at Berkeley backs up Public Advocates’ complaint: “Some restoration of staffing seems reasonable. But the first full year of LCFF (the Local Control Funding Formula) implementation has been dedicated largely to rebuilding the status quo, rather than rethinking how to construct a pro-equity strategy….”
According to Fuller and his colleagues, there is real potential in new funds allocated from the state of California, but only if the district uses the funding as intended: “The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has begun to reassess budget priorities with an eye toward reducing stark disparities in student achievement. The District will receive about $1.1 billion in the new school year (2015-16) intended to uplift those pupils most at risk of poor academic performance—children from low-income families, English learners, and foster youth. These groups make-up what District officials call the Target Student Population, equaling over 80% of LAUSD enrollments, precipitating the large number of dollars coming from the state.”