Nearly 200 students, teachers and parents rallied outside Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters today, delivering a 10,000-signature petition to the LAUSD school board that demands it spend $1 billion in incoming state funds on enriched programs and academic help for low-income, at-risk and foster kids living in the city's highest concentrations of poverty.
Under Gov. Jerry Brown, California this year changed the way it funds K-12 schools — a system long known to shortchange poor students by leaving their schools fiscally far behind the schools in better neighborhoods. Now, local school boards can choose, under the new "Local Control Funding Formula," to end that practice. But it's not clear if the LAUSD Board of Education plans to go along:
Communities for Los Angeles Student Success (C.L.A.S.S. ), a coalition of activist organizations, along with community members and parents, are pressing the school board's members to embrace change.
LAUSD-educated Rosalinda Miguel, 21, a UCLA student and member of the national organization Students for Educational Reform, is a first-generation college student. She explains why she's pushing LAUSD's board to focus money on poor and at-risk kids:
"Just because [students] go to the neighborhoods where most of the people are low-income or they're minority students, just because they come into this neighborhood and are born into this neighborhood, doesn't mean that they should lack the resources that students at other districts like Beverly Hills [get]. They have all these resources and funds, so why can't we have [the same?]""
Her message to Jerry Brown and the board: "We have the money, might as well put it to good use."
Manual Arts High School graduate Larry Benson, 18, explained to the crowd why LAUSD's board should focus more spending on poverty-stricken communities. A member of the Community Rights Campaign, Benson told the Weekly, "I'm here to make a change in the LAUSD, because when I was going to school we didn't have many resources — or the information that I'm getting right now. And I want to help other students get the information that they need — and change their lives."
Ryan Smith, director of education programs and policy for United Way of Greater Los Angeles, which played a key role at today's demonstration, says:
"Our objective was to make clear that the $1 billion investment that's going to be made over the next seven years be spent on the students who need it the most: Low-income youth, foster-care students and English-language learners. The district can spend it on a number of things, but the governor intended that those communities are the ones that receive it first."
One young person in the crowd, Amy Parada, 20, is a student at Whittier College and also the first in her family to attend college. Parada, a member of Students for Education Reform, says:
"We were lucky to be able to get to college and attain a higher education, but a lot of our peers from our childhood were not as fortunate as we were. So we're here because everyone deserves the opportunity that we have right now. We just want to make sure they have the resources necessary so that they can do whatever their passion is. "
The LAUSD school board, whose leanings on this issue are largely unknown, is under pressure from teachers' union activists to put much of the new state money toward a double-digit raise for teachers. The school board is expected to hammer out a spending plan by April.
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The United Way's Smith says, "We're going to continue to collect petitions until we see a budget that does right by students, particularly low-income students, in Los Angeles."
Right now, he says, "Everything is still up in the air, I think [Superintendent John Deasy] is going to create a plan he will propose to the district, and hopefully it's an equitable plan."
But as Smith notes:
"For years, advocates across Los Angeles — civil rights groups, education groups — have been fighting to ensure that low-income students have a fair chance. This is revolutionary — this may be the first time we can actually close the achievement gap and opportunity gap for students. And we are going to continue to come to the [LAUSD school] board to ensure that happens."