UPDATED: September 10, 2014
After seeking clarification from the Los Angeles Unified School District about how it calculated the funds it said it was spending on low-income students, English learners and foster children, the Los Angeles County Office of Education has approved the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan.
It is the final LCAP to be approved by the county in the 80 school districts within its jurisdiction.
The LCAP, which districts are required to draw up under the state’s new school financing law, is supposed to outline a district’s plans for improving outcomes for these three categories high-needs children, and how it intends to provide additional and improved services to those children in proportion to the additional funds it receives from the state. The principle is referred to as “proportionality” in the law.
The county had asked for clarification on how the district estimated that it spent $700 million last year on high-needs children. One of the issues was whether the district could include $450 million in special education funds as a large portion of that amount.
Based on complicated formulas set by the law, the amount a district spends in a prior year on high-needs children has an impact on how much it must spend the following year on them.
Go here for a full explanation provided by the California Department of Education on impact of prior year funding levels.
In an Aug. 19 letter to the county, Los Angeles Unified School Superintendent John Deasy vehemently defended the way his district reached the $700 million figure. He said the district estimated that 79 percent of all students in special education were in one of the high-needs categories. “Seventy nine percent of the special education program expenditures .. were therefore counted towards the proportionality goal because they were for the benefit of eligible, high needs students,” Deasy wrote.
Deasy also defended the district including some funds for adult education in the $700 million total, because he said high school students can use adult school classes to recover credits that they may be missing. He made a similar justification for including LCFF funds to provide school police services – because he said they “directly benefit the safety of students in schools with the highest percentages” of high-needs students.
In a June 6 letter to Deasy, John Affeldt, managing attorney at Public Advocates, and David Sapp, director of education advocacy for the ACLU of Southern California, charged that the district should not have included funds spent on special education services in their calculations. They argued that special education is part of a district’s normal operations and should not count towards additional or improved services for children most in need.
If the special education funds were not included, Affeldt and Sapp argued that the district would be required to spend an additional $133 million, on top of the additional $137 million the district is already intending to spend on those children during the current school year.
The decision by the county to approve the LCAP generated a strong response from Affeldt, who said he was “disappointed” in the county’s approval of what he termed an “illegal practice” by LA Unified. “These special ed services were not targeted last year for high need students, but are part of the district’s general offerings as required by federal law. Next, LAUSD will want to take credit for the high need student portion of the electric bill. All options, including litigation, remain on the table at this point to correct the district’s $133 million underfunding of high need students.”
In his letter, Deasy also argued that the county had no choice but to approve the district’s LCAP because the law only gives the county limited powers to reject it.
“The legislative intent behind the LCFF allows Local Education Authorities (school districts) to demonstrate comprehensive strategies using all resources to benefit all students,” he explained. “Nowhere in the regulations is the district precluded from including unrestricted General Fund expenditures.”
Superintendent John Deasy’s response to the LA County Office of Education can be found here.