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Dan Walters writes for CALmatters, a public interest journalism company that explains how the California State Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories from Dan Walters, visit calmatters.org/commentary.
Los Angeles' vast unified school district is the zero point in California's ongoing political war to raise millions of children at the short end of the state's chronic "achievement gap".
LA Unified, the country's second largest school system, has nearly 10% of the state's 6 million public students, the vast majority of whom are classified as "at risk" due to poverty, lack of English skills or advancement of child status.
Every year California taxpayers give LA Unified more than $ 1 billion in additional financial assistance to help these children advance their academic achievements under the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which former Governor Jerry Brown considered one of his best performance.
However, Brown always defied strict accountability for how LA Unified and other local systems spent the extra money, saying he trusted local education officials to do the right thing.
Dominating California Capitol Democrats face an ongoing financial crisis and are wondering whether to borrow heavily or tax the rich to spend more, says columnist Dan Walters.
The official guide for providing additional assistance is the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), which each district must adopt each year. However, advocates of education reform have long complained that LCAPs are usually written in almost indecipherable jargon that fails to specify how money improves the education of target children – with LA Unified being portrayed as a model of obfuscation.
Reformers scored a victory this month when the state education department, which typically empowers LA Unified and other recalcitrant systems, declared the district's LCAP for 2019-20 to be seriously flawed.
Public Advocates, a San Francisco-based public interest law firm, and Covington & Burling, a Los Angeles law firm, had challenged the LCAP, stating that it was vague to report on how additional state aid was being spent and what improved results were would result from it.
In just a few weeks, California's economy went from boom to bankruptcy and Californians wondered what the future held, says columnist Dan Walters.
The Ministry of Education denied some allegations but confirmed the main ones related to the lack of specificity, e.g. For example, pooling $ 800 million on different types of services in one category or not reporting how the funds would be spent at the school level.
“Central to LCFF is the requirement that the district (s) be fully transparent about how it is spending its money so that community stakeholders can contribute to decisions and hold districts accountable for the equitable and effective use of funds “Said Laura Muschamp, Covington & Burling attorney, said in the statement. "This decision reaffirms those values and gives LAUSD and districts across the state clear guidelines on what transparency of the spending plan is and why it is essential to community accountability."
The newly required transparency of the decision enables parents and outside observers such as public lawyers to force the local school systems to more precisely determine how they spend tens of billions of dollars each year.
The mayors of two major California cities, Sacramento and San Jose, want to become "strong mayors" with executive power, says columnist Dan Walters, but learn that it is politically difficult.
This also implies that the superintendent of state schools, Tony Thurmond, could be a tougher overseer than predecessor Tom Torlakson, who often sided with districts and powerful school unions. At one point, Torlakson contradicted his own department, stating that LCFF funds could be used for general pay increases.
The LA Unified judgment was issued on the last day of fiscal year 2019-20, and no LCAPs will be issued for 2020-21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, districts write learning continuity plans to outline how distance learning classes are conducted, including the way in which children at risk are cared for.
These children are at great risk of falling further behind during the public health crisis. It is all the more important that LCFF spending is closely monitored. The LA Unified case tells local school systems to stop playing word games.
Watch Now: California Bans Smoking and Vaping in State Parks and Beaches
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjM6kjKyE6A (/ embed)
CalMatters is a public interest journalism company that explains how the California State Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories from Dan Walters, visit calmatters.org/commentary.
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