Lawsuit Seeks Misspent Education Funds
By Dianne Anderson
If $63 billion for 2019-20 in Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) funding slated to help mostly low-income Black and Brown kids in school districts across the state sounds like a lot of money – it is.
Now, if only those high needs students could get at those state-mandated resources and services that are due them.
A recent lawsuit is trying to achieve just that against the San Bernardino County Superintendent and Office of Education, calling them to remedy the unaccounted or misspent $300 million that was supposed to go to serve high needs, mostly students of color.
Nicole Gon Ochi, senior staff attorney with Public Advocates, said the complaint filed earlier this month in conjunction with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California on behalf of Inland Congregations United for Change and Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement, seeks a two-fold solution.
“One is that we want county Offices of Education everywhere, particularly in San Bernardino because they are the worst county office that we’ve encountered – we want them to fulfill their accountability duties,” Gon Ochi said.
Trying to recoup the benefit of those evaporated dollars back to students is hard to achieve. She said the complaint requests money that hasn’t already been spent go toward increasing student services for high needs students to be carried forward in future years.
Part of the solution is that a higher portion of the budget is dedicated to effective services to close the opportunity gap. Ideally, it would be part of the district’s future planning and budgeting process over the next couple of years, and she said payback over a three-year spending plan period is realistic.
San Bernardino City Unified, Apple Valley Unified, Hesperia Unified, Victor Valley Union High School District and Chaffey Joint Union High School District are named in the complaint.
Public Advocates has also filed similar complaints in Long Beach in 2017, and another in northern California.
In addition to Black and Brown students losing out on funds intended for them, she said there is concern about transparency and community accountability, and how the process is impeded when the COE doesn’t hold their districts accountable.
Parental involvement is a priority for how school districts develop Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAP) plan to ensure the LCFF funding is spent on meeting the priorities of its high needs students.
She said that LCFF is not for districts to do whatever they want with the money, rather that they involve community stakeholders, parents, teachers and students, to have input in a substantive way.
The facts in the complaint show that the COE, which is responsible to monitor districts and make sure the equity promise of funding is fulfilled, has done a bad job of accountability, she added.
“We’re hoping there will be an order or settlement for a better prospect for them to review these district spending plans so these things won’t pass muster as they have, and the County Offices of Education will be vigilant in making sure that equity dollars are being used for their intended purpose,” she said.
Sergio Luna, with ICUC, said an enormous amount of dollars are flowing down that should go to help Black and Brown students excel in English and Math, instead of feeding them into the school pipeline to prison.
As of 2017, he said the school district had 26 police officers and 56 security guards, and whenever students faced a crisis in the classroom, the district teachers would call security or police.
“Our district claims to have great social justice practices and PDF [common core English and Math] programs, and still we don’t have enough social-emotional therapists,” he said.
“That didn’t just happen this year, it’s been happening because they were not transparent on funding they were getting from supplemental and concentration funds,” he said.
Luna contends that all parents sitting on parent-led advisory groups were outraged to learn the school district used $9.5 million in funding for police and adjacent activities.
In response to their concern that they put before the San Bernardino Unified School District, he said they were told that the money for police was in the LCAP plan and the COE approved it.
“The community leaders from these groups that are supposed to be at the table were screaming that no one ever told us that you were using this money for police,” he said.
Tickets are another concern, and that students of color are overpoliced as part of systemic racism. He said that San Bernardino city school district supposedly changed citation and suspension policy, but it only resulted in about a 5% reduction in the past five years because teachers still call the police for disruptions.
“The way our schools are treating our Black and Latino students has been as potential threats and potential criminals,” he said.
“It is egregious that districts are spending any money, let alone money for high-need students on law enforcement,” said Jewel Patterson, a youth organizer with COPE, “and it’s even more disappointing that the County isn’t doing its job to make sure these funds are used appropriately to support high-need students. These funds need to be reinvested in resources that will actually help our students and community, and we will fight to ensure that happens quickly.”
For more information on how the money flows, see: https://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/aa/pa/documents/p2fingertipfacts1920.pdf
To see the latest Black stats and the County’s Resolution declaring racism a public health crisis:
To see a copy of the complaint: