By Anna Bauer

Reyna Frias worries about her kids. One of her sons is in special education, and both of her sons are English learners and low income students. Like many other parents with children enrolled in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools, she wants to ensure that her children are receiving the best possible education, particularly when they face significant challenges and need additional services to keep up with their classmates.

So when Ms. Frias heard that state lawmakers enacted the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), a new law that provides more funding to California school districts that serve high-need students, she hoped it would bring much needed relief to her school and two children. She grew even more encouraged when she learned that the law is intended to increase and improve services for English learners, students in foster care and low income students.

But nearly two years since Governor Jerry Brown signed the law into effect, Ms. Frias has seen little improvement in the services being provided to her children and is growing frustrated. “My youngest child needs help learning English, but he isn’t really getting the help he needs. As a mother, I feel frustrated to see my son . . . ,” said Ms. Frias, her voice trailing off.

Enacted in July, 2013, LCFF was meant to reapportion California’s education funds to high need students, who include Ms. Frias’s two children and make up 84 percent of LAUSD’s enrollment.

Unfortunately, many students, including Ms. Frias’ 8-year-old, are not receiving the help he needs because LAUSD manipulated a budget calculation to reduce its obligation to add new or better services for high-need students, including English-learners, over time.

LAUSD counted nearly a half billion dollars in pre-LCFF spending on special education services as part of its baseline estimate of services it was providing to high-need students. By inflating its starting point, LAUSD reduced its obligation to increase or improve services for high-need students in the future. LAUSD’s approach is illegal because LCFF is designed to increase or improve services for high-need students in proportion to the amount of new funds those students generate. Before LCFF, LAUSD was already required by federal and state law to provide special education services to all eligible students. And eligibility for special education has nothing to do with being a member of one of the three high-need student groups under LCFF.

So LAUSD is taking credit for something it already had to do. The manipulation deprived high need students of $126 million for improved services funding for the 2014-15 school year and $288 million for the upcoming school year. At this rate, LAUSD will take more than $2 billion from high need students like Ms. Frias’s two children by 2021.

The ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), along with Public Advocates and Covington & Burling LLP, sued LAUSD on behalf Ms. Frias and the Community Coalition of South Los Angeles for violating this state law.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, asks that the school district be required to invest the appropriate amount of money to develop new or improved services for the high need students targeted under LCFF.

Ms. Frias and other LAUSD parents feel “it is unfair that the state says it is going to provide some help and then the district doesn’t provide it.” She hopes that LAUSD will recalculate their expenditures and rewrite their LCAP so her sons, and the hundreds of thousands of other high need students in Los Angeles, will finally receive the proper amount of supplemental services they have been promised by the new law.

Anna Bauer is an intern with the ACLU of Southern California