New education funds in Los Angeles Unified must target highest-needs schools
Apr 22, 2014 | By Maria Brenes / commentary, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, and John Kim
More than 300 students, parents and community members from the Eastside of Los Angeles and South Los Angeles demonstrated during the first week of April in front of the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters to demand that Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) dollars be directed to schools based on a comprehensive set of needs that includes academic outcomes and neighborhood conditions.
Passed by the California Legislature in 2013, the formula provides school districts with additional resources specifically for foster youth, English learners and low-income students. It is an important starting point for closing the achievement and funding gap that has plagued California schools for years. New dollars for high-needs students provide school districts and their respective communities the opportunity to invest wisely.
Advancement Project, in close collaboration with Community Coalition and InnerCity Struggle, has produced a Student Need Index. The index is a rigorous, research-based ranking of the highest-needs schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District that best meet the criteria for additional funding under the new funding formula. For example, in the top 10 highest-needs high schools, 284 students drop out, compared to 17 students at the lowest-needs high schools, according to the Student Need Index. This shows that the needs of schools within the district are vastly different.
The Student Need Index not only measures how students are doing in the classroom but also takes into account the neighborhood conditions that can negatively impact a student’s academic success. The index measures target student populations specifically highlighted in the new funding formula: foster youth, English learners and low-income students. The Student Need Index also measures neighborhood conditions, such as exposure to violence, access to youth programming and early care and education. Schools are ranked on a scale from lowest to highest need.
The recently released budget proposal by LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy is promising but does not target sufficient resources toward the schools with the highest concentration of needs. We propose that the district align with the spirit of the new funding law and adopt the Student Need Index as the principal guide for distributing additional state education funds it will receive. This is a high-stakes moment regarding how to best invest resources on behalf of high-needs students. The LCFF is bringing more than $800 million to the district to close the achievement gap for these students, but the district needs a better approach for how to invest these dollars. By doing so, it would ensure that investments are targeted strategically and are guided by a comprehensive set of objective data.
Schools in the Eastside of Los Angeles, Northeast Valley and South Los Angeles have historically faced the challenges of being under-resourced and neglected. This has resulted in lack of opportunities for students living in our communities. While LAUSD has many schools with needs, we urge the district to target resources to the highest-needs schools.
Our Student Need Index identifies 242 schools with greater needs, thus providing an innovative framework for targeting resources for higher impact. These schools are burdened by unjust and unequal conditions that must be addressed if we expect to dramatically close the achievement gap. For example, these schools:
- Have about three times the number of students who are classified as English learners;
- Have more than three times the number of students that are being expelled or suspended;
- Have 3.5 times the number of students that are in foster care; and
- Are almost five times as likely to be exposed to gun violence.
In recent years, the district has focused on school transformation efforts that have led to progress. Graduation rates are on the rise, suspension rates are declining, students are now required to complete the college course requirements and overcrowding has been alleviated. These gains are due to years of the community demanding justice and insisting that our neighborhoods are prioritized. The district can further improve the odds for students by using state education funds to hire additional counselors, increase school-based health services, add sufficient “restorative justice” coordinators to help reduce suspension and expulsion rates, and strengthen parent engagement for the highest-needs schools.
As the largest school district in California, LAUSD has the opportunity to dramatically move the needle on equity for the highest-needs schools within its boundaries. We call upon our district leadership to adopt this index as a decision-making tool and direct funds to the schools that need them most for the programs and services that will make a real difference. That is what is needed to close the achievement gap and fulfill the promise of offering a quality education to every Los Angeles student, regardless of where they live.
Marqueece Harris-Dawson is president of Community Coalition, John Kim is co-director of Advancement Project, and Maria Brenes is executive director of InnerCity Struggle. All three organizations are based in Los Angeles.EdSource welcomes commentaries representing diverse points of view. The opinions expressed in this commentary represent those of the authors. If you would like to submit a commentary for EdSource Today, please contact us.