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ACLU SoCal Communications & Media Advocacy; communications@aclusocal.org; 626-755-4129

June 30, 2020

More than $300M in Unaccounted or Misspent Funds for High Need Students Alleged Against County Superintendent and Office of Education

LOS ANGELES – At a time when schools and their communities are facing unprecedented challenges—a pandemic, an arduous re-opening process, and elevated calls to address anti-Blackness and structural racism in schools—more than 90,000 high need students in San Bernardino are being cheated out of three-quarters of the increased and improved services owed to them under state law, according to a complaint filed today with the California Department of Education (CDE) against the San Bernardino County Office of Education (SBCOE). Perversely, millions of dollars in funds earmarked for high-need students of color are diverted to fund law enforcement that harms the very students these funds are designed to support.

“I am shocked to see what districts were allowed to get away with in the plans approved by the County Education Office,” said Inland Congregations United for Change’s (ICUC) lead organizer, Sergio Luna, “San Bernardino City Unified, for example, didn’t disclose in its LCAP or at LCAP meetings, the $9.5 million in funds they sank into campus police that should’ve been invested in services our youth and parents have demanded for years –deeper restorative justice practices, more funds for wellness centers and mental health staff, investments into community engagement, and efforts to close the achievement gap for Black and Latinx students.”

The complaint alleges that the county education officials violated their oversight and accountability obligations under the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), California’s school funding law, by approving egregiously deficient 2019-20 school spending plans known as “LCAPs” within SBCOE’s jurisdiction. It is the first complaint filed under the 2013 LCFF law directly and solely against a county office of education for widespread deficient oversight of district spending.

The complaint was filed by Public Advocates, Inc. and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California on behalf of the Inland Congregations United for Change (ICUC), a non-profit comprising 63 interfaith congregations representing over 60,000 families in San Bernardino, and the Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (COPE), a non-profit dedicated to training and developing the capacity of religious and lay leaders in congregations across the Inland empire. For decades, these groups have been organizing parents and students to provide high-need families’ voices in public education and to advance education equity for students of color.

School districts identified in the complaint include San Bernardino City Unified, Victor Valley Union High School District, Hesperia Unified, Chaffey Joint Union High School District, and Apple Valley Unified, which serve a combined population of 127,554 students. Overall, San Bernardino’s county education office oversees how 33 districts spent $800M in Supplemental & Concentration (S&C) funds received during the 2019-20 school year.

“Our own research and most recently that of the State Auditor has suggested that districts around the state are flagrantly evading LCFF’s mandate to increase or improve services for high need, primarily Black and Brown students,” said Nicole Gon Ochi, Senior Staff Attorney with Public Advocates, “They’ve been able to get away with this because of lax oversight by some county offices of education. That has to end now.”

Under LCFF, when high-need students enroll in a school district, they bring with them state funds that must be spent on new or improved services that are effective and principally directed towards them. SBCOE’s failure to fulfill its oversight obligation is particularly troubling when the highlighted districts include some of the lowest performing schools in the state and ones with high suspension and chronic absenteeism rates.

The complaint alleges that SBCOE improperly approved 2019-20 LCAPs from districts that:

  • Failed to show how they intended to use funds to increase or improve services for high-need students. For example, approving SBCUSD’s LCAP, which did not account for 80% of its equity obligation, or $118 million in funds earmarked for high-need students.
  • Failed to address material “proportionality” shortfalls from prior years, meaning that they did not increase or improve services for high-need students at the level required by state law in previous years and did not carry over that unmet obligation to following years. For example, approving Hesperia’s LCAP, which only spent a third of the funding it received to support high-need students and appears to have swallowed its unspent millions into its general spending.
  • Improperly allowed districts to count law enforcement expenditures towards their increased and improved services requirement, harming the very students that LCFF is intended to protect. For example approving Chaffey’s LCAP, which spent 20% of its S&C allocation on law enforcement contracts and security, which—counter to LCFF’s requirement for effective use of S&C funds—instead correlated with increases in suspension rates for foster youth, Black students, and Pacific Islander students.

“SBCOE violated the law when it approved the spending plans cited in this complaint,“ said Victor Leung, Deputy Litigation Director with ACLU SoCal, “This complaint sends a clear signal to counties and districts around the state that there must be accountability. Hundreds of millions of dollars for high-need students can’t just disappear into general budgets or not be spent at all,” said Leung.

“It is egregious that districts are spending any money, let alone money for high-need students on law enforcement,” said Jewel Patterson, a youth organizer with COPE, “and it’s even more disappointing that the County isn’t doing its job to make sure these funds are used appropriately to support high-need students. These funds need to be reinvested in resources that will actually help our students and community, and we will fight to ensure that happens quickly.”

For a copy of the complaint click here.

For a copy of the California State Auditor’s report on LCFF addressing similar issues identified in the complaint click here.

For a copy of the AB 1835 by Dr. Shirley Weber, which addresses the issue about “proportionality shortfalls” identified in the complaint, click here.

For a copy of Our Right to Resources a report co-authored by Public Advocates, the ACLU of California, Gente Organizada, and the Pomona Students Union about school district that are illegally spending funds intended for high need students on law enforcement, click here.

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