Want ‘Local Control’? Here’s Another Example of School Districts Failing to Support the Kids Who Need It Most

Aug 25, 2016 12:00:00 AM

by Caroline Bermudez

A new article in The Atlantic details another example of how the most needy kids in our schools are not getting the money that was promised to them. California writer Nadra Kareem Nittle explains the confusion underpinning California’s Local Control Funding Formula, through which school districts receive extra money for low-income children, English-language learners and foster youth. The article details how this extra aid, intended to give districts more freedom to determine how to best help needy students, is not being used as intended. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) unsuccessfully tried to appeal a $450 million lawsuit for misallocating this state money, in part because LAUSD contends that spending on other groups of students, such as those in special education, meets the requirement. The loose nature of the funding formula seems to be exacerbating, not lessening, California’s funding inequities, Nittle writes.
[The new law] threatens to make student funding even more unequal…. An Education Trust-West study of 40 district spending plans found that many districts aren’t accounting for all of the money they’ve been allocated or annually improving services for vulnerable youth, as required.
The Long Beach Unified School District, writes Nittle, may be the next district to be summoned to court for how it’s spending the funds. According to Sarah Omojola, an education-rights advocate for Public Counsel, a pro-bono law firm in Los Angeles, there is scant accountability for how Long Beach is allocating the funding.
“This district is deciding all of the money is to be used wherever,” without detailing how it will or won’t affect high-needs students, Public Counsel’s Omojola said. The notion that students who most need services will use them, she argued, “is not following the spirit of the law.”
California serves as a bellwether for how education issues will play out in the rest of the country. With the new Every Student Succeeds Act on the horizon and its emphasis on local control, observers should pay close attention to whether a new era of increased autonomy leads to disadvantaged kids getting the support they need. If California is an early indicator, there is reason for doubt.

Caroline Bermudez

Caroline Bermudez is chief storyteller at the Charter School Growth Fund and former senior writer at Education Post. Bermudez has been a journalist for almost 10 years. She was staff editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy, covering the nonprofit world, with a particular focus on foundations and high net-worth giving. She has interviewed prominent business, political and philanthropic leaders including Colin Powell, Ronald Perelman, Carl Icahn, Patty Stonesifer and Eli Broad. She also assisted with The Chronicle's Philanthropy 50, its annual ranking of America's most generous donors. A proud graduate of Chicago Public Schools, she has a B.A. in history from Swarthmore College.

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