EDUCATION POLITICS-It’s the avowed 800 pound gorilla in the room: poverty just mucks up everyone’s numbers. Kids don’t “achieve learning”, schools fail to make “adequate yearly progress”, businesses can’t locate sufficient or acceptable workers.
The “education gap” between rich and poor is the perfect common bogeyman: everyone agrees it is intolerable. And it’s a start to have a common enemy. Consensus on tackling it is trickier. But its imperative is clear; poverty has life-long, even cross-generational effects.
Mustering the will and way to “throw money at the condition” of poverty may seem enduringly complicated, but next week LAUSD’s school board can take a small, simple step in the right direction. You can too by signing the petition explained below and turning out in front of the board in person to fully support all our entitled students – details follow below.
In 1965 Lyndon Johnson started this process by signing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), familiarly known as “Title I”. Designed to “improve academic achievement of the disadvantaged”, the act has sporadically been amended, reworked and even renamed in 2001, redubbed (as it were) the “No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act” during the republican administration of George W Bush. Democrat Barak Obama’s “Race To The Top” is a non-regulatory cousin of NCLB, differing in terms of funding style and the source of educational power and authority, whether informed by the democrat’s centralized, aka “federal” model, or rather the republican’s distributed, aka “state” variety.
In determining what Title I funds reach your local neighborhood district school, what matters is the proportion of enrolled children who are eligible for free or reduced lunch. This is one of several federally-sanctioned ways to count poverty, and it is the method LAUSD exploits.
Funding is disbursed according to the count of how many “poor” children are present, but the allocations benefit the entire school community for, and only for, the purpose of supplementing – note this is very explicitly distinct from “supplanting” – programs to improve academic achievement. These can include among many vital programs, funds for, e.g., tutoring, counseling, health and library aides, academic enrichment or class size reduction.
Nowadays, if more than 50% of the enrolled children are eligible for subsidized lunch, LAUSD deems the school to be “Title I-eligible”. But this qualifying threshold is a new lower limit, instituted overnight with no discussion in December 2011, and experienced district-wide like a proverbially moving goalpost. When this threshold was raised without warning, necessity was invoked by district administrators on account of the fiscal crisis. And yet no crisis existed then or persists now that could not be mitigated with appropriate planning.
It was the short-term infusion of stimulus (ARRA) dollars starting in 2009 that skewed expectations of federal assistance, ultimately topping out at two and a half times its former per capita, pre-ARRA rate in 2011. Despite clear directives (p. 2) to avoid the “spending cliff” of the aberrantly high stimulus funds, to budget these as limited, and not ongoing funds – despite these warnings, still LAUSD became reliant on chimeric largesse.
It was when the stimulus dollars came to a “sudden” end that the LAUSD school board was told its sky was essentially falling and to balance the budget its Title I eligibility-threshold must be raised. This disenfranchised thousands of children attending schools of lesser poverty concentration when 23 schools were stripped of Title I funding and status. Many of these schools subsequently “went charter” in search of anti-poverty grants elsewhere, diminishing enrollment and federal Title I entitlement monies that would have accrued to the district as a whole.
So the crisis of 2011 was predictable, and the resulting panicked reaction of withdrawing critical funding from children was in fact necessitated not so much by the vicissitudes of an economy gone awry, as by the poor administrative planning skills of our central leadership.
More disturbing than budgetary ineptitude is the surprising disposition of Title I funds to projects or users different from the explicitly entitled children of poverty. Permitted by the state, the entity overseeing allocation of federal “anti-poverty” funds, is the withholding of up to 15% of Title I monies for “administrative” or “indirect” costs. Included in this category (or perhaps not, since both line items and legalities are inscrutable in the 229 page LAUSD budget) are “carryover” funds. That is, funds disbursed by the federal government for the purpose of ameliorating the conditions of poverty, that were never spent by the agency charged with redressing this terrible handicap.
These were monies received, banked in a presumably (hopefully?) interest-bearing account, and all the while withheld from their intended target — needy children attending schools in challenging conditions.
These diverted funds sat fallow all year long, in quantities amply sufficient to defray entitlements for the hapless schools of 40-49% poverty concentration. Instead thousands of children from these low-income schools saw funds on the order of up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, already promised to long-settled budgets, simply reneged on.
This, while all the while these monies were carried over sequentially, year after year, seemingly untapped. Meanwhile these disenfranchised children saw their schools’ entitlement zeroed-out, resulting in loss of the resources that made these schools of diverse socioeconomic status so functional.
This is all set to change next week. The LAUSD school board will consider a resolution for “Educational Equity and Achievement for all Title I Students” next Tuesday, November 12 at 4pm. This resolution seeks to restore Title I funding to children attending schools at the former 40% poverty threshold. Fully funding entitled schools at the historical threshold can be achieved from carryover monies alone; not a single dime need be diverted from the coffers of any current Title I school.
YOU can help restore these funds by signing this petition, alerting school board members and staff to your endorsement of this imperative. The school board needs to hear from the community: please sign the petition right now!! Every single member of our diverse, deserving local public school district will benefit from your willingness to speak out. Thank you.
There is another way to help if you live or work near downtown Los Angeles. Please turn out at 333 S Beaudry Avenue (90017), before 4pm on Tuesday, November 12, 2013. Express your support for funding entitled schools at the former 40% poverty threshold; express your support for our Title I learners! If ever there was a population that deserves full, efficient utilization of federal resources, it is this one. Please help us restore entitled funds to our children who most need it.
(Sara Roos is a politically active resident of Mar Vista, a biostatistician, the parent of two teenaged LAUSD students and a CityWatch contributor, who blogs at redqueeninla.com)
Vol 11 Issue 90
Pub: Nov 8, 2013