The Los Angeles Board of Education and L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy heard from dozens of students, parents, educators and community members on how to spend $837 million in state funds for disadvantaged students.
The L.A. Unified School District budget is the first to be crafted under the state’s new school finance system, which infuses the district with hundreds of millions in extra funding specifically aimed at boosting services for students who are low-income, learning English and in foster care.
FOR THE RECORD
May 14, 1:13 p.m.: An earlier version of this post identified Ruth Cusick as an attorney for the Children's Rights Project. She is an attorney for Public Counsel; the Children's Rights Project is a part of that group.
Deasy’s budget plan calls for increased access to tutoring and counseling for foster youths and more instructional coaches and training materials for students learning English. The proposal also includes more assistant principals, counselors, social workers, special education workers and other support for students at 37 schools with low-performing students and high teacher turnover.
Funding would also go toward reducing the size of middle and high school math and English classes.
About 80 people signed up to speak to the board Tuesday afternoon and evening, expressing a wide variety of priorities for the new funds. Some speakers praised the draft budget, but urged the superintendent to steer the majority of that money to the neediest of schools and for more targeted spending to boost services there.
Several sought the development of benchmarks to measure the effect of the funding.
“We need to hold them accountable for results -- so it’s not just lip service,” said Rob McGowan, an organizer with a community group called Community Asset Development Re-defining Education, after he spoke to the board.
Some speakers called for specific funding for parent engagement; others requested increased money for mental health services, arts programs and adult education. Still others criticized the district for not properly taking into account the opinion of parents.
Ruth Cusick, an attorney with Public Counsel, said the budget set aside too little toward maintaining a safe, supportive school environment for the most vulnerable of students.
She hopes L.A. Unified increases funding for counselors trained in an alternative conflict-resolution method for students known as restorative justice.
The proposed budget currently allocates $660,000 for five counselors trained in the method for the entire district, the nation's second largest.
“Let’s make meaningful investment at these schools where students don’t feel like they even have shot,” Cusick said outside the board room. “Those communities can be transformed.”
Several speakers urged the district to use a comprehensive new measure developed by a coalition of community groups and civil rights leaders to target spending at the neediest schools in the district.
The “student need index” analyzed test scores, dropout rates, gun violence, asthma and eight other factors that affect learning to determine the neediest schools in the district. The analysis found that the schools most in need were concentrated in southern and eastern Los Angeles, along with the Pacoima area in the San Fernando Valley.
The extra money for disadvantaged students makes up just a fraction of the district's overall $6.8-billion budget. It is also a small share of the $4.47 billion in state funding overall for L.A. Unified's general education programs for the coming school year.