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EXCLUSIVE: Successful magnet and affiliated charter schools may suffer in proposed reshuffling of LAUSD’s Title I funds

Mike Szymanski | June 22, 2017



Many community groups rallied for different sides of the Title I resolution.

A realignment of Title I money being proposed at LA Unified could end up hurting some of the district’s most successful schools, many in low-income areas. The school board is discussing funneling more of the federal funding to schools with the highest poverty rates.

The plan to reshuffle the federal money was proposed by two school board members, and in the past month it has created anxiety among principals throughout the district. Others think that disrupting the formula could lead to more schools converting to independent charters, so they wouldn’t be subject to the district’s distribution formula.

Title I funding is vital to LA Unified schools, where 76 percent of students (a total of 391,788 students) qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, a poverty marker. About 67 percent of the schools, or 719 district schools, receive Title I funds.

This would be the first change to the district’s Title I distribution since 2011, when the district raised the eligibility for schools receiving the federal funds from 40 percent students in poverty to 50 percent. At that time, protests erupted as some schools took a drastic hit to their budgets.

  • Find out how your school would be affected by clicking on this link. All Title I schools are listed by district starting on page 534. The grid shows how much funding schools now receive and how that could change. 

“My office has been barraged with calls from principals and community members asking how to offset the changes in less devastating ways,” said school board member Scott Schmerelson, whose District 3 in the west San Fernando Valley would suffer the biggest losses with 48 schools losing $4.7 million a year.

“It is difficult to exercise equity with a mathematical formula that declares some students winners and some students losers,” Schmerelson said. “There must be a better way.”

Two well-respected affiliated charter schools in Schmerelson’s district would lose the most in LA Unified. Gold Ribbon school Grover Cleveland Charter would lose $529,360, and one of the most-improved high schools, Chatsworth Charter, would lose $353,600. Nearby Taft Charter, which is often touted as a successful model school to other schools in LA Unified, would lose $422,800.

“My district is heavily impacted and there are no easy solutions,” Schmerelson said. “We are looking at how to help some children without harming others.”

Mónica García and George McKenna proposed the resolution at the June 13 board meeting, prompting more than 90 minutes of discussion and public comment. The resolution introduces a three-tier system that redistributes the Title I money among the same number of schools, but it changes the amount of money per student favoring the areas with the highest poverty. The district staff notes that the lowest-performing schools are in the highest poverty areas and therefore need more support.

Ultimately, the board voted 6-1 to put off until September any decision on Title I shifts so the two new board members could weigh in on the plan. García, who initiated the resolution, wanted to vote on the plan right away, while McKenna joined the others in asking for a more detailed report in September. He asked for the superintendent’s office to show how schools will be impacted.

Also, the list of schools affected could change by Norm Day in the fall, when enrollment is counted. None of the changes would take place before the 2018-19 school year, and the district still isn’t sure how much Title I money will be available.

Right now, the district expects a 16 percent cut in the $327.7 million of federal funding for Title I schools, which began in 1965 under President Lyndon Johnson.

“They’re not making America great again in Washington, they’re letting us down and giving us crumbs. We are now fighting over crumbs,” board member Richard Vladovic said during the board discussion.

HOW MONEY WOULD SHIFT

In the current two-tier system, schools with 65-100 percent poverty this year received $569 per student while those schools with 50-64 percent poverty received $433 per student.

In the new plan, a school with 85-100 percent poverty would receive $631 per student, 75-84 percent poverty would receive $442 per student, and 50-74 percent would receive $309.

“This resolution calls us to walk the walk, and it is responding to a direct absence of equity,” García said during the board discussion.

Mónica Ratliff visiting one of her schools.

Board member Mónica Ratliff said she thought that the new configuration would unfairly harm schools in the middle, such as those with 70 percent poverty. She noted that schools in the new formula with 80-100 percent poverty would get $31 more per student than they had been getting before, and schools with 50-79 percent poverty would receive $149 less per student. She said it’s more burdensome to those schools, as they also struggle with poverty.

“That means Apperson Elementary which is right near my house would lose $31,692, and I can tell you right now that they cannot make up that much money in a fundraiser,” Ratliff said. “It’s an honorable goal to make up for losses coming out of the federal government, but you are robbing Peter to pay Paul. That’s not fair.”

She added that a loss of $50,000 for a school can mean the difference of paying for a teacher’s aide or needed technology.

In the new proposal, at least 12 span, affiliated charter, and magnet middle and high schools would lose more than $100,000 a year from their budgets, as would 35 district elementary, middle, and high schools.

Meanwhile, 11 middle and high schools would gain more than $100,000 in their budgets.

BIGGEST LOSSES

Entrance to Hamilton High.

Among the biggest losses would be a $484,000 annual decrease for Hamilton Senior High Complex which would lose nearly half their Title I funding, from $1 million to $575,000. The school’s total budget is $7.8 million.

Outgoing student school board member Karen Calderon said she is concerned for the school she just graduated from in West Los Angeles. She presented a petition at the meeting signed by 380 students, teachers, and parents protesting the Title I changes.

“I’m concerned about the dramatic losses that would affect Hamilton,” Calderon said. She said the loss could mean cutbacks in counselors that are needed at the school.

Bravo Medical Magnet, a highly touted magnet school that trains students to go into medical professions, would lose $187,000 of its $838,000 funding. The district’s new flagship all-girls school, Girls Academic Leadership Academy, with 350 students would lose $25,500 a year, nearly 30 percent of their Title I money.

The LA Center for Enriched Studies (LACES) Magnet, which historically earned the district’s highest API or test scores, would lose $124,000 of their $432,600 a year in Title I money, a full 29 percent. The school’s annual budget is $8.4 million.

LACES, with 61 percent low-income students, suffered a loss of $300,000 a year in 2011 when the district moved the Title I threshold from 40 percent to 50 percent of a school’s population serving low-income families.

Some of the big winners could include South LA’s Fremont Senior High, which would boost its Title I money by $105,000 to more than $1 million. Polytechnic Senior High in the east San Fernando Valley would gain nearly $150,000 to $1.5 million.

“My school is among the highest needs and needs all the extra money we can receive,” said Fremont High junior Fernando Mosceda at the board meeting. “We had five students in my class who didn’t have a desk this past year and had to share books in math class. At my school, students feel unsafe, and there are shootings and drugs and criminalization of youth all around the school.”

Protesters supporting Title I changes. (Courtesy: InnerCity Struggle)

WILL SCHOOLS MOVE TO CHARTER STATUS?

Some of the school board members said that they were concerned that the district’s Title I plans may incentivize some schools to become independent charters.

“We don’t have enough money in this state for our children, and the unintended outcome may be that some of our schools may decide that being an affiliated or other charter is better so they can get all the money then,” Vladovic said.

Former school board member David Tokofsky warned that if schools become increasingly unhappy with the outcome of Title I shifts, “it would certainly drive schools in the district to becoming independent charters.”

Some of the school board members suggested that any Title I changes should not come from a school board member but from Superintendent Michelle King. A few of them gently chided her for not bringing it up first.

“This should have come from the superintendent’s office, not from the board members,” Vladovic said pointing to King. “I think it should have emanated from you, and you need to bring some coherence to it. That is how a superintendent leads a district.”

Ref Rodriguez noted that he thought the superintendent missed an opportunity to jump on the potential problems a year ago. “I need to say very strongly that we need the superintendent to be innovative and your staff to be committed to equity. We need thinking outside of the box to make sure kids get what they deserve.”

King’s staffed worked with the García resolution and insisted that no school would lose all its Title I funding, so that any school with 50 percent or more low-income enrollment would maintain its eligibility. King said that giving more of a percentage to schools with higher poverty could lead to more rigorous programs to help them improve test scores and get them to graduation, which is the district’s prime directive.

“We are not sufficiently funded in the first place, so we have to figure out how to use our allocation for those with the highest needs,” King said.

COMMUNITY REACTION

In the public discussion, many community organizations weighed in on the resolution. UTLA’s president, Alex Caputo-Pearl, said the teacher union was supportive of the idea of equity but would like to be part of any ongoing discussion. Juan Flecha, president of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles union, said schools can’t afford to lose any of their funding and was against the resolution. Representatives from the Weingart Foundation, Advancement Project, SEIU, and city council offices spoke in favor of the resolution.

Katherine Nelson, principal of 107th Street Elementary, worries about losing more funding.

Principal Katherine Nelson of 107th Street Elementary School in South LA spoke at the meeting in favor of the new formula because it could help offset what she expects could be drastic federal funding cuts coming from the new Trump Administration.

With 1,000 students and almost all of them at the poverty level, her school has already lost $100,000 in federal government cuts its support, and could lose more. Those cuts could mean not having a much-needed full-time nurse, psychologist, or assistant principal.

“We need more investment in social-emotional programs,” she said. “We need more support.”

Allan Kakassy of the district’s Commission on Human Relations, Diversity, and Equity supported the overall idea of the resolution but said he was concerned about some cuts to many schools in need. He went through the district’s proposal and found that of the 580 schools gaining money, 511 would get less than $30,000 while only 68 schools would gain more than $30,000. Meanwhile, 139 schools would lose and 65 would remain the same.

He noted that of the 17 high schools that would lose more than $100,000 a year in funding, 10 of those would lose more than $200,000.

“The funding should go to schools that are persistently underperforming,” Kakassy said. “I strongly believe that the district should form a task force to look at this. Equity is most important.”

García wasn’t disappointed about delaying the vote to the fall.

After the vote, García told LA School Report, “I know there are some schools that may be hurt with this shift, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. We have to do with what we have. This is the best way we came up with.”

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