Complaint to State Accuses LAUSD of Improper Handling of Funds for High-Needs Kids

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The nonprofit law firm Public Advocates has filed a complaint against the Los Angeles Unified School District on behalf of parents alleging that the district is failing to properly account for $2 billion in funds that are supposed to be directed to needy low-income kids, English language learners and foster youth.

The complaint filed with the California Department of Education asks for immediate intervention from the state to invalidate LAUSD’s new Local Control Accountability Plan – a state-required plan specifying how it intends to help high-needs kids  – which it alleges LAUSD posted on its website June 28, 10 days after a different LCAP was approved by the LAUSD Board.

The complaint said that this new LCAP and budget overview were never vetted by the public, are twice as long as what was approved by the board and made substantial changes to LAUSD’s Foster Youth program without any public review, which is required by law. The complaint also questions whether the additional state funds provided under the Local Control Funding Formula are actually being used to help needy kids.

“To make LCFF really transform our schools, the district has to be transparent about its spending, and they must trust us, the parents, to have something valuable to contribute,” said Ana Carrion, parent of a 12-year-old LAUSD student, one of two parents who signed onto the complaint.

“Tragically, LAUSD’s LCAPs are so rife with fundamental errors that they undermine basic notions of transparency and equity and thwart meaningful efforts at local engagement and accountability,” the complaint said.

The complaint also alleges that the Los Angeles County Office of Education is aware of the problem but has “failed to ensure LAUSD follows the law.”

Other allegations in the complaint include:

·   The annual LCAPs from both 2019-20 and 2018-19 fail to demonstrate the district is meeting its obligation to increase or improve services for high-need students by 32% a year, or approximately $1.1 billion annually.

·   LAUSD is illegally “bundling” services and their budgeted expenditures under vague “mega-actions,” which prevent the public from seeing what specific actions the district is undertaking, how much is spent on each and whether the actions can be legally justified. One broad “School Autonomy” action listed by the district accounts for $880 million in funds, or 9% of all of California’s funding intended for the state’s needy kids.

·   LAUSD failed to spend $340 million intended for needy kids and instead rolled undisclosed expenditures into the next year’s budget.  

LAUSD gets more than $1 billion a year to help high-need students, which is 12% of all the funds the state allocates for needy student groups, according to John Affeldt, a managing attorney at Public Advocates.

“Yet they do about the worst job of any district in showing how they are using those funds to support these students,” he said. “We suspect they are under-spending on high-need students by hundreds of millions of dollars a year. It’s time for LAUSD to get its house in order.”

 Many of the LCFF funds are being directed to school sites, which Public Advocates applauds, but the complaint alleges that LAUSD has failed to identify the specific schools receiving the funds, the specific actions that will be carried out at the schools, and how the specific school-wide actions are directed and effective for high-need pupils. Likewise, the complaint alleges that LAUSD fails to explain how district-wide funds will help the students the funds are intended to support.

 “It is far from clear that the high-need students of LAUSD are receiving the enhanced services they are due under LCFF,” the complaint said. “What is clear is that the District is not meeting its legal obligations to be transparent about its spending.”

The complaint asks the California Department of Education to order LAUSD to adopt a new 2019-20 LCAP and to order LACOE to only approve an LAUSD LCAP that “fixes the fundamental errors.”

LAUSD did not respond to requests for comment at press time, and a LACOE spokeswoman said the complaint “is currently under review.”