Speaking truth to power

By

September 6, 2017

Parents and community organizations celebrated that the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) redistributed more than $17 million in funds to be spent more equitably and in a more targeted manner based on student need. This comes after an administrative complaint was filed on behalf of Children’s Defense Fund-California (CDF-CA), Latinos In Action-California, and parents in April alleging that the district had misspent $40 million intended specifically for low-income students, English language learners, and foster youth. Complainants still question some of LBUSD’s budgeting decisions prompting Public Advocates, Inc. and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, who are handling the case pro bono, to appeal to the California Department of Education.

In the complaint and subsequent appeal filed Aug. 23, complainants challenged the district’s spending of funds that are required to be targeted towards new or better services for high-need students under the 2013 school funding law known as the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). Under that law, students in three high-need groups — low-income kids, foster youth and English learners — generate additional state funding for their schools. In turn, district officials are supposed to spend that money on programs addressing the needs of students from those specific groups.

Since the complaint, LBUSD has discontinued paying $14 million in teacher salary increases out of these funds and significantly reduced the challenged technology expenses. In response to the complaint, the district also revised its 2016-17 spending and academic plan, known as the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), to provide greater clarity as to how the district is spending the $40 million. In exchange for increased flexibility under the new funding law, districts must transparently report on their strategies and spending as well as authentically engage community members in local decision making.

"I am proud of the parents like myself and the students who have stood up to the school district for what is right," Martha Cota, executive director of Latinos in Action California, said. "It has taken us four years of building relationships with the school district to make our voices heard. To have more than $17 million already for high-needs students is a big victory for the community. This is not finished, but we have so much community support behind us that I am confident our children will finally get the help they deserve."

The appeal seeks to have the district reallocate another $17 million spent on basic textbooks that complainants allege comprise the entire cost of textbook purchases for the past school year and appears to be a general expense rather than one specifically designed to benefit the high-needs student groups. The appeal also asks district to provide further detail concerning $14.5 million spent on instructional aides.