When it comes to education and learning, actions speak louder than words

By Angelica Salazar

October 3, 2017

Children learn much more from what we do than from what we say. As a former middle school teacher, I knew my actions spoke far louder than my words. Now that I am an advocate with Children’s Defense Fund- California (CDF-CA), one of my jobs is to monitor the actions of Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) to make sure they are upholding the same values we hope our youth are learning—particularly accountability, dignity and equity.

Last April, CDF-CA joined two parents and two nonprofit organizations (Latinos In Action-California and Public Advocates) to file a formal complaint against the budget actions of the Long Beach Unified School District—Californian’s third largest district. We estimated that about $40 million in state funds were misspent on basic districtwide expenditures when they should have been spent on additional supports specifically for high need students, including low-income, foster youth, English Learner, and homeless students. These supplemental funds from the state, created by the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), have instead been spent on basic expenses, like textbooks—which benefit all students—rather than additional services to accelerate closing opportunity and achievement gaps.

When Governor Jerry Brown signed LCFF into law in 2013, he said, “Equal treatment for children in unequal situations is not justice.” LCFF is based on the value of equity. How do we turn those words into action?

It is inadequate to claim, as the district has, that a particular service or purchase will benefit high need students “by default,” or that it has been planned “with high need students in mind.” This approach has allowed the district to spend these limited funds in an unrestricted manner, disregarding the law and its intention to redistribute resources to high need students who have been historically underserved. This is why we have engaged in the process to urge the district to show us, not just tell us, how high need students are being supported. Most importantly, we want to see how the district defines students’ needs and invests accordingly with the recommendations of the students and parents as a forethought. We haven’t seen that yet.

The Los Angeles County Office of Education recently acted to promote equity and fulfill its oversight role and found that $24 million of LBUSD’s supplemental fund spending (out of the original $40 million in our complaint) was not justified and should be corrected.

For now, we await a decision by the California Department of Education to know what the ultimate result will be of our April complaint and our August appeal of Long Beach schools’ misuse of funds. But we do know that we won’t give up. Community oversight is hard work. It is especially difficult to go up against an award-winning school district whose many accolades and statistical averages often mask the inequities, and whose words and actions demonstrate that it considers itself above the law. At times, it feels like David verses Goliath. And for as much good as districts like LBUSD achieve, they can and should do better for students who have been historically marginalized, discriminated against, and underserved.

Politics and reputation aside, educators and stakeholders often have a common goal—that every child has the opportunity and support to grow, learn, and succeed. LCFF has transformed the way we fund schools to support students for the better. But if the promise of LCFF is to be fulfilled, we must ensure we are accountable, acting with dignity and equitable in our actions, not just claiming it.

I am overwhelmed with hope in light of the courage and power of parents like Guadalupe Luna and Marina Roman Sanchez—who spoke up about LBUSD’s misuse of funds—as well as other parents, students, educators, advocates, and stakeholders who find their inner strength to fight for equity. They inspire other parents, and other advocates like myself, to work through our fears to speak truth to power in order for our systems to do what is best for students. The actions of these individuals speak volumes; and our children and youth are watching.