Recently, over 300 students, parents and community members from the Eastside of Los Angeles and South Los Angeles demonstrated in front of school district headquarters to demand that Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) dollars be directed to schools based on a comprehensive set of needs that includes academic outcomes and neighborhood conditions.
Passed by the California legislature in 2013, LCFF provides school districts with additional resources specifically for foster youth, English Learners and low-income students. LCFF is an important starting point for closing the achievement and funding gap that has plagued California schools for years. New dollars for high-need students provides school districts and their respective communities the opportunity to invest wisely.
Advancement Project, in close collaboration with the Community Coalition and InnerCity Struggle has produced a Student Need Index. The index is a rigorous, research-based ranking of the highest-need schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) that best meet the criteria for additional funding under the new LCFF. For example, in the top ten highest need high schools, 284 students drop-out compared to 17 students at the lowest need high schools, according to the Student Need Index. This shows that the needs of schools within the district are vastly different.
The Student Need Index not only measures how students are doing in the classroom but also takes into account the neighborhood conditions that can negatively impact a student’s academic success. The index measures target student populations specifically highlighted in the LCFF – foster youth, English Learners and low-income students. The Student Need Index also measures neighborhood conditions, such as exposure to violence, access to youth programming and early care and education. Schools are ranked on a scale from lowest to highest need.
The recently released budget proposal by LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy is promising but does not target sufficient resources toward the schools with the highest concentration of needs. We propose that the district align with the spirit of LCFF and adopt the Student Need Index as the principle guide for distributing LCFF funds. This is a high-stakes moment regarding how to best invest resources on behalf of high-need students. The state’s LCFF is bringing more than $800 million to LAUSD to close the achievement gap for these students, but the district needs a better approach for how to invest these dollars. By doing so, LAUSD would ensure that investments are targeted strategically and are guided by a comprehensive set of objective data.
Schools in the Eastside of Los Angeles, Northeast Valley and South Los Angeles have historically faced the challenges of being under-resourced and neglected. This has resulted in lack of opportunities for students living in our communities. While LAUSD has many schools with needs, we urge the district to target resources to the highest needs schools.
Our Student Need Index identifies 242 schools with greater needs, thus providing an innovative framework for targeting resources for higher impact. These schools are burdened by unjust and unequal conditions that must be addressed if we expect to dramatically close the achievement gap. For example, these schools have:
— About three times the number of students who are classified as English Learner;
— More than 3 times the number of students that are being expelled or suspended;
— 3.5 times the number of classmates that are in foster care;
— And are almost 5 times as likely to be exposed to gun violence.
In recent years, the district has focused on school transformation efforts that have lead to progress. Graduation rates are on the rise, suspension rates are declining, students are now required to complete the college course requirements and overcrowding has been alleviated. These gains are due to years of the community demanding justice and that our neighborhoods are prioritized. The district can further improve the odds for students by using LCFF resources to hire additional counselors, increase school-based health services, add sufficient restorative justice coordinators and strengthen parent engagement for the highest-need schools.
As the largest school district in California, LAUSD has the opportunity to dramatically move the needle on equity for the highest-need schools within its boundaries. We call upon our district leadership to adopt this index as a decision-making tool and direct funds to the schools that need them most for the programs and services that will make a real difference. That is what is needed to close the achievement gap and fulfill the promise of offering a quality education to every Los Angeles student, regardless of where they live.
Maria Brenes is executive director of InnerCity Struggle. Alberto Retana is executive vice president of Community Coalition. John Kim is co-director of the Advancement Project.