Los Angeles Unified’s draft accountability plan shows promise of new funding law

April 9, 2014

The potential of the state’s new education funding system was on full display this week when Los Angeles Unified School Superintendent John Deasy presented a draft accountability plan that included a dizzying array of new and expanded programs.

With 84 percent of its student body of 640,000 students falling into one or more of the three “high-needs” categories that will bring additional dollars to the district – low-income students, English learners, and foster children – Los Angeles Unified is by far the biggest winner when it comes to the extra funding it will get under the new Local Control Funding Formula.

This school year the district received an additional $700 million in state funding based on its enrollment of high-needs children. Next year, that additional funding will total $837 million. As Deasy noted, for the first time in years, the district is projecting a balanced budget.

That kind of money is allowing the school district to move in notable new directions. One example is the district’s plan to spend nearly $10 million on new services for foster children, which will require hiring nearly 100 additional employees.  All elementary foster children will receive a comprehensive academic assessment, and all secondary school foster youth will have an individualized “culmination” or graduation plan. To help ensure that they don’t fall through the cracks, there will be one  counselor or psychiatric social worker for every 100 foster youth.

“We have never done anything like this in Los Angeles Unified before, and we are proud to be able to do something like this now,” Deasy said.

Among its myriad new programs, the draft plan also calls for building 50 new middle school libraries, along with adding nearly 200 librarian aides, expanding arts programs, and reducing class sizes in the 8th and 9th grades by two students.  Custodial staff will be added, along with a huge increase in maintenance employees – about 273 over the next three years.

Deasy also wants to allocate over $111 million during the coming year directly to elementary and middle schools, which will get autonomy in decision-making over their budgets. Within another two years, Deasy is promising that high schools will also have the same budget autonomy.

When Deasy presented his draft “Local Control and Accountability Plan” to the board, his past battles with the board seemed distant.  Board members were largely positive, including members who were involved in Deasy’s near-ouster last fall. Deasy, often at odds with teachers over hot-button issues such as his support for tying teacher performance to student test scores, seemed to go out of his way to engage teachers in the reforms contained in the draft plan. He suggested that many of the teachers laid off as a result of the budget wars triggered by the Great Recession could be rehired to fill new positions that the accountability plan will create.

While no pay raises are included in the draft proposal, he said teachers deserved raises after not getting any salary increases in a half-dozen years or more.  “I look forward to negotiations where we can provide an increase in compensation for our employees across the district,” Deasy said.

He praised teachers for their dedication to integrating the Common Core State Standards into their classrooms. “I have not seen a  group of professional teachers like those at Los Angeles Unified that have done such an amazing job in implementing the Common Core,” he said,

Before its final adoption in June, the plan is likely to undergo revision, as it is subject to review by the district’s Parent Advisory Committee and English Language Advisory Committee. It will also be discussed at a public hearing on May 13.

In the meantime, there will be pressures from a range of organizations to spend the funds differently. For example, the Advancement Project, an L.A.-based civil rights and advocacy organization, is urging the board to target its funds more directly to 242 schools it argues have the greatest needs, as determined by the “student needs index” it has devised.  

But Deasy cautioned that despite all the cash flowing into the district there are still limits on what can be accomplished. He noted that California still ranks 47th in the nation in per capita spending on education. “Do we wish we could do more?” he said. “Heck. I’d like to spend another $90 million” on top of the funds the district will receive, he said.

Those caveats aside, he also noted at the end of his presentation, “We are proposing a set of very good new and large investments.”   These investments would have been unimaginable until recently – and they send a powerful message about the dramatic shift in the momentum that is occurring in California schools.

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