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August 8, 2016

Public Advocates, ACLU of California and Covington Burling LLP call on California Department of Education to force immediate compliance with ruling ordering LAUSD to correct $450 million miscalculation 

LOS ANGELES—A coalition of education and legal advocacy groups today applauded a newly released decision by state officials upholding an order that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) must correct a $450 million budget miscalculation that illegally diverted state funds intended for new or improved services for high-need students. But the coalition also expressed deep concerns that the California Department of Education (CDE) is not forcing immediate compliance.

The ruling, released late Friday, came in response to an appeal by LAUSD of a June 2016 CDE finding that the school failed to meet state funding regulations. While the Department of Education reaffirmed the decision on Friday, it also said LAUSD will be allowed to delay budget adjustments needed to correct the spending error until 2017-18. The coalition partners—Public Advocates, ACLU of California, and Covington Burling LLP—object to the prolonged denial of vital services students to the state’s most vulnerable students.

“We appreciate CDE confirming that LAUSD's calculation is not consistent with the law and shortchanges the district's high need students essential services each year,” said Sylvia Torres-Guillén,  director of education advocacy for the ACLU of California.  “However, we remain deeply concerned that CDE has suggested LAUSD may take up to a year to bring their spending into compliance with the law. They have now been on notice for two years.  There is no reason the district cannot begin providing new and improved services immediately."

The CDE’s ruling stems from a lawsuit, Community Coalition of South Los Angeles and Reyna Frias v. LAUSD, et al filed July 1, 2015, and subsequent administrative complaints related to the lawsuit filed this year.  It is the first of its kind on school districts’ obligations under the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), the state’s 2013 finance reform law, and could have important implications for the implementation of the law statewide.

The decision requires LAUSD to revise its calculations for its 2016-17 district spending plan (known as the Local Control Accountability Plan, or LCAP, under LCFF) so that all supplemental and concentration funds are directed towards services for high-need students solely on the basis of their status as low-income students, English learners or foster youth. By removing up to $450 million from its LCFF calculations, attorneys estimate that the district’s obligation to increase or improve services for high need students should grow by approximately $380 million in 2016-17 alone.

In their legal request to the CDE, attorneys for Ms. Frias and Community Coalition also asked CDE to increase by an additional $422 million the funds LAUSD must re-allocate. This would require LAUSD to make up for shortchanging high-need students in 2014-15 and 2015-16. That request was not granted by CDE in the ruling.

In a July legal filing, attorneys for Ms. Frias and the Community Coalition adamantly opposed allowing LAUSD to continue to defy state law for an additional year, pointing out that nothing in the law allowed State Public Instruction Superintendent Tom Torlakson to approve such a delay.

"We applaud CDE for siding with parents and students who are in dire need of equitable resources and services,” said Alberto Retana, president & CEO of Community Coalition. “We urge LAUSD to correct its course swiftly and responsibly," he said.

Now that CDE has issued a final determination rejecting LAUSD’s interpretation, attorneys for Ms. Frias and Community Coalition hope that the district will move swiftly to amend its LCAP and finally provide the appropriate amount of services to its high need students.  If LAUSD does not comply, the attorneys will assess what further court intervention is required.

“It is not within the State Superintendent’s authority to allow LAUSD to continue violating the law,” said Rigel Massaro, attorney with Public Advocates. “While most of the state’s high-need students will be benefiting from LCFF, Los Angeles’ low-income, English language learners and foster youth will not receive essential services paid for with funds that they themselves generated.”

Read CDE’s final determination here.

Read the UCP complaint by Ms. Frias and Community Coalition here.

Read the complaint in Community Coalition of South Los Angeles and Reyna Frias v. LAUSD, et al here.

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