Los Angeles school officials are pulling out all the stops to get parents of students at nearly 400 “high-poverty” schools to submit required paperwork by this Friday to avert the loss of up to $200 million in state lunch subsidies.
“The California Department of Education has instituted a requirement that all school districts, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, provide written documentation of each low-income student,” according to an LAUSD statement.
In response to the requirement, the LAUSD distributed more than 138,000 paper applications, according to the district.
“The stakes are high,” according to the statement. “Parents and guardians need to know if they have received a form it is critical that they fill it out and return it to the school.”
The state request amounts to a “very onerous requirement that we felt was sprung on us,” said Leilani Yee, a legislative advocate for the district.
Administrators were informed just before the first day of school, when it was too late to include the information in back-to-school packets.
The district has until March to enter all the information into a state database. But the process of printing, distributing, following up and collecting more than 138,000 forms between now and then was characterized by district officials as a “nightmare.”
Not to mention the cost.
“It’s definitely something that we didn’t budget for,” Yee said.
The Los Angeles Unified School District has one of the highest concentrations of low-income students in the state, with more than 80 percent at or below the poverty line. The 2013 poverty threshold, set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is $19,530 for a family of three.
Superintendent John Deasy said the failure to collect every single form will cost the district.
“We are not asking for anything extra, only our fair share,” Deasy said. “Public education lifts children out of poverty. LAUSD needs every dollar that we are entitled to … All poor children should be included.”
A state education official said accountability was at the heart of the request for information that he said was mandated by new legislation.
“To receive funds aimed toward the neediest students, LAUSD – and every other district around the state — must demonstrate that those students exist,” said Chief Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Rich Zeiger.
“Targeting these funds and the accountability systems accurately is at the heart of this new legislation. That is worth any additional accounting burdens associated with this important work.”
Officials said forms must be completed by Friday, but also said that follow-up will continue into mid-December.
“We are working to smooth this transition as much as possible,” Zeiger said, “but allowing LAUSD to circumvent the same paperwork that every other district is required to do would deny much-needed funding to other students around the state.”
On Tuesday, Deasy countered Zeiger’s statement that LAUSD must “demonstrate” that the needy “students exist” by inviting him talk with him through “Florence-Firestone, Pacoima, and Watts — among the poorest neighborhoods served by L.A. Unified — for vivid evidence that this District serves thousands of students living in circumstances of abject poverty.
“I’m offended by his presumption that middle-class students are sneaking into schools in poor communities to reap the benefits of additional funding,” he sais in a written statement.
Deasy said he finds it “disturbing” that state officials would “shortchange” needy students following a “unilateral” decision to change reporting requirements.
“I’m also deeply distressed that the CDE did not require us to assess poverty levels prior to the state taking millions of dollars from kids as the result of devastating cuts the past five years,” he said.