So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

More money, more problems? LA Unified wrestles with influx of cash

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

A Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education meeting

Several new funding streams are rushing into Los Angeles schools this year. Even though students hit the books again last week, Los Angeles Unified School District leaders are only now finalizing plans on where to channel funds.

On Tuesday, board members and union representatives expressed concern about how quickly the money was coming in and going out.

“How will we know we are on track?” asked school board member Monica Garcia. “We have a budget, we have this plan - how will know if we are moving the way we want to move? And, how is this investment going to support the change in culture we are trying to see?”

The principal source of new funding is coming from the state to help implement Common Core – a new national set of learning standards that emphasize critical thinking over simple memorization. L.A. Unified will receive $113 million to fund teacher training, new technology and materials over the next two years.

L.A. Unified officials said 75 percent of that will be used for professional development, a large chunk of which will go to salaries for some 200 teacher coaches at schools. 

Most other California school districts will be spending a substantial portion of their Common Core cash - which comes out to about $200 a student - on computers and networks needed to run new digital tests. L.A. Unified, on the other hand, is covering many of those technical needs with capital from voter-approved construction bonds.

Dr. Jaime Aquino, the district's Superintendent of Instruction, presented the budget for the new standards at Tuesday's meeting of the Board of Education, emphasizing line items are still estimates and intentionally on the high side for the two years of state funding. He hopes that layer of fat will be left over to ease implementation for a third year.

He also told board members that the even thought the state money is just arriving, the district has been working on the new standards for some time.

“There is some confusion, even in the field, ‘Is LAUSD just going to start now transitioning to the Common Core?’ ”  said during Tuesday's meeting of the Board of Education. “We’ve been transitioning the last two years.”

The board stressed that more public input is needed before the district picks up its checkbook. Another new source of funding requires just that.

The district is crafting a preliminary budget for cash coming down from California’ local control funding formula. The state’s model will eventually add $188 million to the district's budget to help shore-up the cost of educating disadvantaged students – specifically English Language Learners, low-income and foster students. The state is requiring districts reach out to parents and involve them in the planning stages on how to spend it.

Plus, L.A. Unified is one of eight California school districts earlier this month received a one-year waiver from the federal government from some of the most onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind, which required districts to fund tutoring and other programs at failing schools. Money that was earmarked for those remediation efforts is now flexible. In L.A. Unified's case, the district has said that adds up to about $60 million.

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