LAUSD students offering their views on how to spend extra state money
Craig Clough | October 19, 2015
While classmates were at the beach, the mall or the park, about 150 LA Unified high school students spent part of their Saturday dowtown at the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, taking part in a Youth Town Hall.
The focus of the meeting was for the students to offer opinions on how the district should spend Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) money, which this school year brought the district an extra $1.1 billion in budget dollars for high-needs students.
Nearly all the students who came are in a high-needs categories the LCFF is intended to help — students who get free or reduced-price lunch, English learners or those residing in foster care. Governor Jerry Brown’s LCAP law requires that they get extra dollars and that districts draw up a spending plan based, in part, on meaningful public input.
Saturday’s event was the first of six LCFF input meetings the district has scheduled with community partners, and more are likely.
Before breaking into smaller groups to discuss specific ideas, the students received a tutorial on the ins and outs of what the LCFF is from Sara Mooney, an education program associate with United Way, and an inspirational speech from LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer.
Zimmer promised that the board and the district would listen to their ideas.
“At the end of the day, what this is about it is about, your right to participate — not just to participate — but to guide and drive this process,” Zimmer said. “The money that is coming though LCFF, the money that’s coming from the state, it’s not the school district’s money, it’s not the money of people who are in power. It’s your money. It’s your funds.”
Saturday’s meeting was the second of its kind. Mooney said no school board members attended the first, last year, but having Zimmer tell them they were being listened to was helpful in getting the students engaged in the process.
“I really appreciate him saying that this money is for the students. I think that is super powerful and very correct,” Mooney told LA School Report.
In the smaller groups, students discuss specific ideas on how to improve graduation rates, a change from last year, Mooney said, when each group tackled a different topic.
“We wanted to focus it around 100 percent graduation, not only what do I need to graduate but what do I need to do to get to college. And that is something we feel is sometimes missing from the conversation at LAUSD, which is how many of your students are actually going to college,” Mooney said.
A full document that outlines all the ideas discussed will be finalized in about a week, but the lack of a focus on college came up frequently in one of the smaller groups. Students said the district just wants them to graduate but offers little support in what it takes to get accepted to a good college.
“It seems like they just want to kick us out of high school, not kick us into college,” one student said.
Another topic that came up frequently was the lack of access to college counselors.
Leslie Chavez, a senior at Banning High School in Wilmington, told LA School Report she would ask for more counselors if she could talk directly to Superintendent Ramon Cortines.
“There is a lack of college counselors. My friends are taking the same classes they took in previous years and they are trying to talk to their counselors, but they don’t believe them,” Chavez said.
The need for more counselors was one of the main ideas that came out of last year’s meeting, as well, Mooney said. During her presentation, Mooney told the students that the district allocated an extra $13 million in LCFF funds more counselors, and the United Way felt a big reason was the recommendation from students.
The students were primarily bussed to the meeting and they came from all areas of the district. Many are students leaders, like Chavez, who said she heard about the meeting through the teacher of her Youth and Government club.
“It brings me joy to see that there are other students pushing just as much as I am to improve our schools within LAUSD. We do have a lot of flaws, and I feel like these students and I can really improve what we have,” Chavez said.
As to what got her to dedicate her Saturday to a discussion on LCFF funds, Maria Garcia, a junior at the RFK School for Visual Arts and Humanities said, “My motivation is always to help so that my sister can have a better education and my brother can too. I think it’s important for students to advocate for the generation that is coming after them.”
*UPDATED to reflect the $1.1 billion in LCFF funds are for the current school year, not last year