Reforms > Local Control Funding Formula

Judge objects to funding school police with money targeted to struggling students



Credit: Center for Public Integrity

Los Angeles County Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Nash.

Los Angeles’ top juvenile court judge is objecting to a planned diversion of $13 million to school police there from state funds earmarked to provide special learning assistance to disadvantaged kids.

Under California’s new Local Control Funding Formula, billions of dollars of earmarked funds are supposed to be directed specifically to low-income and foster-care kids, as well as students classified as still learning English as a second language.

In a June 6 letter to the Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles County Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Nash said this particular pot of money should not be diverted to support the district’s own school police force, which has an annual budget of around $57 million.

Nash expressed “great respect” for recent efforts to reduce school suspensions and referrals to police, but said he did “not see a reasonable nexus between law enforcement and specifically improving the educational experience and outcomes for our most vulnerable student populations.”

“On the contrary,” the judge said, “there has been a wealth of research that indicates that aggressive security measures produce alienation and mistrust among students which, in turn, can disrupt the learning environment.

“This explains why, as part of a nationwide discipline reform process that has gained significant traction of late, there is a specific focus on reducing police involvement in routine school discipline matters,” Nash wrote.

Nash’s letter was made available to the Center for Public Integrity.

Nash presides over one of the biggest juvenile courts in the country and was a recent president of the National Council of Juvenile Court Judges. In that role he also wrote to the White House expressing concerns about schools rushing to obtain federal money to put more school police on campuses in the wake of the 2012 school massacre in Newtown, Conn.

As the Center for Public Integrity reported, Nash has been involved in efforts in Los Angeles to rein in the use of school police on campuses; practices were leading to the annual ticketing of tens of thousands of mostly low-income black and Latino students for tardiness, truancy, schoolyard fights and other minor infractions. Almost half of the ticketed students were 14 or younger.

Nash argues that excessive use of police in essentially school discipline matters — and matters he said were better addressed through counseling and family support — were contributing to a “school-to-prison pipeline” putting kids at risk of greater, not less, trouble with the criminal justice system.

A 12-year-old featured in a Center story was arrested and charged with assault in connection with a fight, his first, with a friend over a basketball game; the school later apologized but the boy had to go to court and also has a police arrest record on the books until he’s at least 18.

Considered the most important school financing reform in 40 years, the Local Control Funding Formula will distribute funds per student to districts, along with supplemental money schools are expected to use to address the academic and counseling needs of disadvantaged students. The state’s black, Latino and lower-income students’ rates of overall graduation or on-time graduation are lagging other groups of students, resulting in disproportionate college enrollment and job skills.

Los Angeles Unified School District leaders are scheduled to publicly present their draft plan Tuesday for how the district will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars extra to boost services for its most vulnerable students. The district’s board must vote on the plan June 30.

A review of other California school districts’ plans shows that some are also considering using money for vulnerable students to supplement school police or security, including in Sacramento, Long Beach and the Kern Union High School District, a Central Valley district with a record of high rates of student expulsion or transfers, as the Center has also reported. EdSource reported last month that West Contra Costa Unified School District is paying $1.3 million this year, out of the $12 million it received in supplemental funding, to cover about half of the annual cost of bringing 18 officers onto 13 campuses.

L.A. Unified representatives did not respond to requests for comment on Nash’s letter or the final draft of a spending plan that was released over the weekend. The $13 million allotment to support police was unchanged from a previous draft proposal released several months ago.

A chart of proposed spending — posted on the district’s website — is not specific in justifying why school police should receive funding meant to support “school climate” for disadvantaged students. But a more detailed version of the plan does say: “We must point out that there are sometimes serious and legitimate safety issues, such as violence or criminal activity, which necessitate the immediate removal of a student from the campus.”

In another letter to the district in April, a number of legal aid and community groups involved in school-discipline reform in California praised Los Angeles Unified for proposing to direct $37 million of the new supplemental funds to 37 of the district’s most troubled middle and high schools.

But the groups also objected to the idea of diverting more than $13 million to L.A. school police, for the same reasons as Nash. The groups additionally protested that the district’s draft proposal initially allocates only $2.6 million for certain methods of managing student clashes and misbehavior known as “restorative justice” counseling.

Restorative justice methods are key to the L.A. district’s own adopted “School Climate Bill of Rights,” the groups noted. That bill of rights aims to reduce suspensions and referrals of students to police for fights or misbehavior. The relatively modest proposed spending to hire a relative handful of counselors to lead this effort is “extremely disturbing,” the letter says.

The groups asked for many millions more to be invested in such counseling, including all the $13 million slated for police. But no additional money for restorative justice appears in the latest version of the plan.

The letter is signed by the Community Rights Campaign of the Labor Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles and Public Counsel, the nation’s largest pro bono law firm, groups that were instrumental in rolling back school-police ticketing in Los Angeles.

Also signing the letter were the California office of the Children’s Defense Fund; the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California; the Youth Justice Coalition; and CADRE, a parents’ group that has pushed for alternatives to student suspensions.

This story was originally published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, independent investigative news outlet.

Filed under: High-Needs Students, Local Control Funding Formula, School Climate

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13 Responses to “Judge objects to funding school police with money targeted to struggling students”

  1. Manuel said

    on June 9, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    This is an important development and it would be ideal if the letter by Judge Nash as well as the letter sent by the group be made available to the general public.

    Will this be possible?

      • Manuel replied

        on June 10, 2014 at 9:19 am

        Thank you, John. I tried finding it by consulting the partner organization’s web site but it wasn’t there. Neither is the other letter referred to in the article and Judge Nash’s letter. I would have thought that these organizations want the letters to be distributed widely once received by the recipients.

        Incidentally, Judge Nash did not notice that $7.66 million are earmarked for “Campus Aides” in that same budget sheet. That’s the euphemism used by LAUSD to describe the folks wearing the t-shirts with “Security” in the back. They are ubiquitous in high schools but I don’t recall seeing them in the middle school my children attended. The bottom line is that these folks are doing police-like work while not being recognized as such. They are also are not trained in security procedures either. Eventually, this will result in some legal liability.

  2. FloydThursby said

    on June 10, 2014 at 2:56 am

    I like this judge!

  3. navigio said

    on June 10, 2014 at 7:50 am

    Having enough teachers to effectively engage students is more expensive than having enough security to subdue them.

    • Manuel replied

      on June 10, 2014 at 9:37 am

      navigio, I guess you are correct in general since an LAUSD police officer makes from $23.08 to $28.72/hour. I don’t know if they “give” them the summer off, but let’s assume they don’t, so that would be an annual gross of $48k to $59.7k, which is what is quoted here. Compare that to a teacher, who start at $45.6k and top off at $78.9 but only after you’ve spent more than 30 years in the classroom (salary tables are here, but they are outdated since the contract has not been renegotiated). But there’s a wrinkle: benefit rates for cops are around 45% while for teachers it is 12.7%.

      So, yeah, it is cheaper to hire more cops than teachers because you need fewer of them.

      • navigio replied

        on June 10, 2014 at 10:29 am

        Yep, fewer. It’s a variation on the brute force algorithm. ;-)

  4. Saa'un said

    on June 10, 2014 at 10:32 am

    Thank you Judge Nash. You made the right decision.

  5. Don said

    on June 10, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    The governing principle of LCFF is local control. Legislator’s specifically minimized accountability requirements for LEA’s. Here we are barely out of the first year and already judges are ruling that such and such spending is inappropriate under LCFF supplemental and base grants and at the same time there isn’t a mechanism in place like SACS codes to verify the expenditures. So if a district claimed it used base grant or other non-S and C grant money, no one would know the difference. Annual audits would not red-flag it, but if a district voluntarily divulges the funding source it IS red-flagged. So the upshot of this is for districts to be very secretive about how it funds controversial programs. As they say – follow the money except in the new era of local control that is no longer a luxury of the discerning public.

    • Paul Muench replied

      on June 10, 2014 at 6:15 pm

      At first I thought this was a ruling because it came from a judge. But on closer inspection it seems as if this judege is using his bully pulpit to influence school district decisions. (If someone knows better please correct me.) Which left me wondering if judges should even make such public statements. I don’t know anything about the standards of ethical conduct in this realm, but a web search for this judge shows that he is not shy about making his opinions public outside the scope of his actual rulings. I see no complaints about impropriety in reference to his statements so for now I assume this is acceptable behavior for a judge.

      • Paul Muench replied

        on June 10, 2014 at 8:40 pm

        I see, Judge Nash’s position is elected.

      • Manuel replied

        on June 11, 2014 at 9:38 pm

        The catch, Paul, is that this judge is working in that field and wants to make a difference. (For the record, I am not that warm-fuzzy about restorative justice as there are many punks out there that will take advantage of it.)

        Having said that, I think it is a bit of hypocritical for Deasy to be spending S&C funds on cops.

        Thing is, if you were to scrutinize the budget where this $13.4 million sit you would realize that all that is happening is business as usual: some money used to go to the cops from the old categoricals and the S&C is the new categoricals under a new name.

        Proof of that is that more than half of the S&C funds were going to be spent on Special Ed. And the entire “options program” was being funded from S&C too.

        But that is all moot as the LAUSD Board approved using the Aggregated Student Need Index on Tuesday. The entire S&C grant allocation will be given to 240 school serving 45% of the unduplicated students enrolled at LAUSD. The other 55% will get diddly-squat. Zilch. Nada. Slowly twisting in the wind. And Deasy said his minions can produce the “new and improved” budget within 72 hours.

        I wonder how that meets “proportionality.”

        I wonder how the parents who worked so hard to critique the current LCAP will feel when told they did it all for nothing.

        I wonder if the LA County Office of Education will rubber-stamp this travesty.

        I wonder if the State Board of Education will do anything if LACOE approves it.

        I wonder if Governor Brown will do anything if he ever hears about it because as sure as H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks this does not meet his “subsidiarity” concept.

        But I am not holding my breath.

        • Paul Muench replied

          on June 11, 2014 at 11:22 pm

          My thinking of about restorative justice was not modified by reading Judge Nash’s letter. Restorative justice is preferential if the resources are available to implement it. So what was interesting to me was the confusion around the significance of Judge Nash’s letter.

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