Los Angeles Unified: Case in Point for Why Weighted Student Formula at the District Level is Not Enough

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Los Angeles Unified: Case in Point for Why Weighted Student Formula at the District Level is Not Enough

Los Angeles Unified provides the case in point for why weighted student formula and student-based budgeting school finance reforms that push money to the district level do not go far enough. If the money doesn’t follow the students to the schools, the district may not spend the money on the neediest students that generate the revenue for the district. These districts have so much debt obligation and legacy costs that is very difficult for them to actually allocate revenue to students. In addition, the highest paid district teachers and staff are often not located in the schools where needy students are enrolled. Districts face lots of pressure to just fund the district expenses instead of disadvantaged students.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

The Los Angeles Unified School District has illegally shortchanged high-needs students of millions of dollars meant for them under the state’s new school finance system, a lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges. The suit claims that improper accounting will cost those students more than $400 million by next June and up to $2 billion by 2020.

Under the state’s landmark reform of its school funding system two years ago, districts receive more dollars for students who are low-income, learning English or in foster care. But districts are required to invest in increased or improved services for them.

At issue is $450 million in special education funds that L.A. Unified counted in 2013-14 as part of its existing spending on high-needs students — a figure that helped set the amount of new required investments for them. The district has said it is only counting dollars spent on special education students who are also low-income, learning English or in foster care — all told, 79% of them.

But John Affeldt of Public Advocates Inc., one of three organizations that filed the suit, said that money is being spent on special education needs — not primarily to help students overcome learning challenges based on language, income or foster placement, as required by state law. He said L.A. Unified appears to be the only major school district in California counting special education funds in this way and that it has artifically inflated its current spending on needy students, lowering the additional amount that will be required.

If the money doesn’t follow the students, school districts have a poor track record of actually allocating resources in an equitable manner and not based on staffing patterns and district obligations that benefit the adults in the district. The money needs to follow the student or it won’t be spent on the student.

Lisa Snell was the director of education and child welfare at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.