The Los Angeles County Office of Education is withholding approval of the Local Control and Accountability Plan drawn up by the Los Angeles Unified School District pending clarification of the $700 million the school district says it spent last year on low-income students, English learners and foster children.
Los Angeles Unified is receiving additional funds for these three categories of high-needs students as a result of the state’s new funding law championed by Gov. Jerry Brown, and approved by the state Legislature a year ago. As a result of the law, for the first time this year all California school districts and charter schools were required to draw up a Local Control and Accountability Plan, commonly referred to as an LCAP, by July 1.
The LCAPs were supposed to outline a district’s plans for improving education outcomes for high-needs children, and how it intends to target additional state dollars it receives from the state on services for those children.
The next step in the process is for county Offices of Education to review and approve the plans within their county’s boundaries, coinciding with county offices’ requirement to approve school districts’ annual budgets by Aug. 15.
LA Unified is only one of five districts out of 80 that the county has so far not approved. By last week, LA Unified’s plan was still “in process” of being approved, according to county education officials. “The LCAP is not disapproved,” county spokesperson Margo Minecki said in an email. “The approval is pending clarification from the district.”
In a brief letter sent to Los Angeles Board of Education President Richard Vladovic last Wednesday, county officials noted that the district said it had spent $700 million last year on high-needs children, and asked Vladovic “to provide (the) rationale that supports the identification of these expenditures.”
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 those children.
Go here for a full explanation provided by the California Department of Education on impact of prior year funding levels.
Both county and district officials declined to provide any additional information about what the county’s concerns might be. “We will respond to them at the appropriate time,” district spokesman Daryl Strickland said in an email. The district has 15 days to respond to the letter.
But John Affeldt, managing attorney of Public Advocates, a legal advocacy firm that is heavily involved in state education policy, said he believes the county’s concerns about the $700 million it referred to in its letter has to do with LA Unified including nearly $450 million it spent last year on special education services.
In a June 6 letter to LA Unified School Superintendent John Deasy, Affeldt and David Sapp, director of education advocacy for the ACLU of Southern California, charged that the district should not have included special education funds as part of the $700 million it said it had spent on high-needs children last year.
If the special education funds were not included, Affeldt and Rosenbaum say the district should 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.
Affeldt said yesterday that he hoped the county’s holding off on approving LA Unified’s accountability plan “will lead the district to remove special ed from their prior year expenditures, and add $133 million in additional funds for services for high-needs children.” He said that special education services are normally provided to all children, regardless of income or language ability , so that the costs for those services could not legitimately be counted as targeted services for the categories of children specified by the new funding law.
But without any comment from the district or the county, it is impossible to say at this stage whether the special education issue is at the heart of the county’s concerns.
This story was updated at 11:30 a.m. on August 19, 2014.