California Gives LAUSD Extra Year on Sorting Education Funding

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Los Angeles school officials have stayed a ruling that advocates hoped would force the Los Angeles school district to redirect millions of new dollars into specialized programs for three high-needs student groups.

The ruling stated that the state’s new school funding formulas did not permit the Los Angeles district to count roughly $450 million in special education spending as a program targeted for those high-needs groups, including English language learners, academically struggling students, and foster children.

However, in a letter to the district, state schools superintendent Tom Torlakson said the department would not require schools to make “any significant spending adjustments until 2017 – 2018 fiscal year.” Thus, district officials plan on continuing spending as the money was originally allocated.

The LA district spends about $1.4 billion of its annual $7-billion budget on special education students, about $400 million of which comes from state or federal funds. “Somehow lost in all of this are the hundreds of millions of dollars that are being spent by this district because of the inadequacy of special education funding and distribution,” L.A. Unified board President Steve Zimmer said.

According to Southern California Public Radio, four out of every five LA Unified students falls into at least one of the groups the state funding formula targets for extra funding; special education funding is derived from a second formula.

Advocates who sought the ruling argue those special education services do not address the needs of foster children, English language learners, and low-income students. They argue that the district is depriving these kids of quality education because they are only targeted by special education expenditures.

LA Unified put forward a legal justification to include $450 million in special education spending in its calculations. It said that many special education students also fall into one of the other high-needs categories. Nonetheless, the state, called this rationale “strained” in its ruling.

Sonali Kohli of the Los Angeles Times reports that If the LA district were forced to find the money for special education students elsewhere, schools would have to increase class sizes and eliminate staff. These cutbacks would further hamper schools’ ability to manage and provide for these students.

Still, the district might not need to redirect $450 million in funds. A letter received Tuesday from the state said LAUSD may be able to keep a large chunk of funding for special education students if the district can explain why those students should fall under the funding formula. The letter also allows the district to implement changes for the 2017-18 school year, instead of in the 2016-17 fiscal year.

“The district has a list of things that work, a list of things the community has been advocating now for several years,” says Elmer Roldan, who directs education and policy programs at the United Way of Greater Los Angeles. “What we’re asking them to do is serve the students and ensure those dollars land where they will have the biggest impact.”