L.A. Unified board approves record $20-billion budget for pandemic education recovery

Two men stand next to each other.
L.A. school board member George McKenna, left, successfully opposed further cuts to the school police as the Board of Education on Tuesday approved a record $20-billion budget proposed by Supt. Austin Beutner, right, and his senior staff.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Board of Education late Tuesday approved a record $20-billion budget for the upcoming academic year — a massive influx of funding made possible by two unprecedented occurrences: pandemic relief money and record state tax revenues.

How specifically that money is spent on a school level will play out in months ahead, but the budget will include the projected hiring of thousands of new employees in a school system where students have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic, with their grades dropping and their mental health suffering.

The budget has been boosted by about $5.5 billion in state and federal pandemic relief plus rising ongoing revenues, although that funding will be spread out over multiple years.


Details of the recovery plan were presented in a previous meeting, where officials laid out a strategy to hire 930 psychologists and psychiatric social workers, an increase of more than 80%; 2,190 teachers, an increase of 8%; and 770 custodial workers, a 25% increase. And these numbers don’t include additional hiring expected to take place in after-school and summer enrichment programs.

The actual numbers could evolve based on decisions made by school leaders, workforce availability, future board actions and an ever-evolving budget. But by any measure, the influx of resources is eye-popping in a district where the number of students has been shrinking for years. The new jobs may not be permanent.

“This is a situation we’ve never been in before as a school district,” said L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner, who spoke only briefly at the meeting and is stepping down at the end of the month. “What you see is the staff’s best thinking about how we provide more direct services to students at schools.”

The irony is that the district has ample funding — at least in the short term — because of a devastating pandemic. The impact has been especially harmful to the district’s low-income families — representing about 80% of enrollment — and its Black and Latino families — who account for about 82% of students. It is these students and families who have disproportionately suffered deaths and job losses as students grappled with barriers to online learning, such as poor internet access and limited opportunities to complete schoolwork.

“You have the power to remediate the damage done during distance learning,” one parent, speaking in Spanish, told the Board of Education during a public hearing that took place via phoned-in testimony. “My son who’s graduated from the 12th grade did not get the support he needed during the pandemic.... And I’m afraid that when he enters in university this fall, he’s going to be frustrated for that lack of support that was missing during distance learning. And I hope that this doesn’t happen with my daughter, who’s in the 10th grade, and other students like her.”

The seven-member board accepted most of the proposed plan, but added amendments, including $40 million to speed up the opening of new preschool programs. And more than $50 million in additional funding was set aside to enhance already expanded programs focusing on Black students.


One amendment was narrowly defeated: a proposal to cut an additional $4 million from the school police budget. Activists have called for the complete elimination of the school police, and their recent demonstrations included one outside school district headquarters on Tuesday.

But on Tuesday, they were disappointed when board members Nick Melvoin and Jackie Goldberg, who both voted last year for a 35% police budget cut totaling $25 million, wanted to hold off on further reductions for the time being. Goldberg abstained on the proposed cut, while Melvoin was joined in voting no by George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson, two retired school administrators who had vigorously opposed the first cuts to school police last summer.

Voting in favor of the further reduction were school board President Kelly Gonez, Monica Garcia and Tanya Ortiz Franklin, who had proposed the additional cut.