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L.A. Unified accuses state of 'shortchanging' needy students

L.A. Unified accused state education officials Monday of “shortchanging” the school district’s impoverished students, saying they could be prevented from receiving all of the estimated $200 million due them under a new school funding system.

Edgar Zazueta, L.A. Unified’s chief lobbyist, said new rules requiring school districts to verify each needy student’s family income in order to receive extra state dollars for them could result in a major undercount.

So far, the district has received only 22% of the 138,000 verification forms sent out last month to students in 380 low-income schools, he said, with the initial deadline looming Friday.

L.A. Unified “needs every dollar that we are entitled to, based on the number of high-poverty students and not limited to those whose parents or guardians are required to fill out a verification form,” Supt. John Deasy said in a statement. “All poor children should be included.”

In a sharp retort, Rich Zeiger, that state’s chief deputy superintendent of public instruction, said districts must prove that students actually qualify for the extra funds. The new school funding law, which took effect this year, provides additional dollars for students who are low-income, learning English or in foster care.

In a statement, Zeiger said that “allowing LAUSD to circumvent the same paperwork that every other district is required to do would deny much-needed funding to other students around the state.”

Districts are required to collect individual family income data every four years to determine eligibility for federally subsidized school meals. In 466 of L.A. Unified’s 900-plus schools, the district provides the meals to all students. District officials would like the state to accept their federal data for this year rather than require them to collect new data.

But Erin Gabel, director of government affairs for the California Department of Education, said that some of L.A. Unified’s federal data are outdated -- some collected a decade ago -- and that the point of the new funding system is to give schools money for their current needy students.

She said, however, that state officials have extended the deadline to March in order to give districts more time to collect paperwork.  

To boost the return rate of its verification forms, L.A. Unified plans to enlist the aid of community groups, broadcast public service announcements, put out robocalls and ask school staff members to follow up with families.

"We are not asking for anything extra, only our fair share," Deasy said.

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