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Approved L.A. Unified settlement would send money to district's neediest schools

Approved L.A. Unified settlement would send money to district's neediest schools
Ref Rodriguez, right, listens to newly sworn-in member Nick Melvoin speak during Thursday's Los Angeles Board of Education meeting. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles school board has authorized a lawsuit settlement that would send more money to the district’s neediest schools over the next three years for resources to improve African American and Latino student achievement.

Community Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group, filed a complaint with the California Department of Education and sued the district in 2015 with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, alleging that the district was misspending up to $450 million meant for low-income students, English learners and foster youth.

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The Los Angeles Unified School District receives more than $1 billion extra for those groups each year under a recent state funding formula. The district freed up $450 million of that pot for general use, arguing that schools spend that amount on disabled students who also are in the three categories.

Community Coalition and other critics called this logic improper, saying that the programs have to specifically help high-needs students.

The California Department of Education required the district in 2016 to redirect the funds or clarify how the dollars are being used for the intended students.

"For us, that wasn't enough," said Alberto Retana, president and chief executive of Community Coalition. "We needed to see additional dollars."

The school board — which met for the first time Thursday with new board members Kelly Gonez and Nick Melvoin — unanimously approved the settlement in principle during closed session.

"We still need to work out a few of the details with the other side," L.A. Unified general counsel David Holmquist said after the board meeting.

What's known, he said, is that "it's going to put more funds out at school sites to benefit the most needy schools in the district."

L.A. Unified officials and Community Coalition representatives would not say how much money would be going to the schools, which schools would receive the funds or what resources the money would be used for, but they said the district would likely be able to announce those details within a week.

"These are African American and Latino students … that oftentimes have dreams deferred," Retana said. "These additional resources will help ... provide the kinds of additional resources needed for our kids to have a shot at success."

Reach Sonali Kohli at Sonali.Kohli@latimes.com or on Twitter @Sonali_Kohli.

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