Education

Funding for high-need students in LAUSD's $8 billion budget

Los Angeles Unified is benefiting from millions of dollars in additional state funds, but some advocates of disadvantaged students complain not enough would get to those with high needs, including foster youth.
Los Angeles Unified is benefiting from millions of dollars in additional state funds, but some advocates of disadvantaged students complain not enough would get to those with high needs, including foster youth.
Photo by Robert S. Donovan via Flickr Creative Commons

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The Los Angeles Unified superintendent released an $8 billion budget plan Thursday that would grow services for high-need students such as English learners and meet rising special education costs next school year.

The latest draft budget represents a sharp reversal from recession-era years when the district slashed programs and cut thousands of jobs. Now, the LAUSD school board gets to approve the spending plan or decide how else to spend $800 million in new funds.

Under Gov. Jerry Brown's local control funding formula, school districts are required to spend a major portion of the additional revenue on improving academic outcomes such as graduation rates for English learners, foster youth and low-income students.

"I don't see how the state's goals are ever going to be accomplished," said Bruce Fuller, a UC Berkeley education professor who received funding from United Way of Greater Los Angeles and the California Endowment to study LAUSD's budget. 

Fuller said the district is using $1 billion aimed at those high-needs students to cover rising special education costs: Cortines proposed funneling $470 million into special education while earmarking about $290 million for programs targeting those learning English, foster youth and low-income students.

"It's a glaring deviation away from the state statute," Fuller said. 

The district has argued it can use the high-need student funds for special education since most of those students are also foster youth, low-income or English learners.

The draft budget also reflects the increasing expense of such fixed costs as pensions and health care coverage for employees, which are eating up an ever-growing portion of the district's revenues.

In a letter accompanying the budget plan, Cortines said along with increasing costs, the district is facing declining enrollment, a trend that negatively impacts the district's finances since its funding is tied to student attendance.

With the new state funds, a projected deficit that in February stood at $160 million disappeared and most of the layoff notices issued in March to about 600 counselors, teachers and other employees are likely to be rescinded.

The superintendent released his 268-page, draft budget with details on how he would improve services for the highest-need students. Here's KPCC's breakdown:

English learners 

The draft budget sets aside $75 million for English learners, an increase of about $40 million from the current year. More than half of the funds will go to central office and educational service centers whereas only $1 million is set aside for classroom instructional coaches, a decrease of more than 70 percent from the current year.

Low-income students

Cortines proposes spending $201 million next year on low-income pupils compared to $182 million set aside last year. Most of the money will be used to support “budget autonomy” at local schools, allowing principals and school communities to decide whether to employ counselors, custodians or other staff.

Foster youth

Under the new plan, spending for foster youth will increase from $10 million to $13 million. Most of the money will go to the Foster Youth Achievement Program, which provides counselors who coordinate services with social workers and ensure timely enrollment as students bounce from home to home.

Community members will have the opportunity to weigh in on the district's spending plan at a public hearing Tuesday. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget June 23.