A big parental revolt is shaping up in the San Fernando Valley and the Westside as federal budget cuts reach deep into the Los Angeles Unified School District.
At issue is the school board’s 6-1 vote in December to take federal poverty funds away from 23 schools, a number of them in middle class Valley and Westside neighborhoods. Nevertheless, they have student bodies that include substantial numbers of poor youngsters.
The funds are distributed to school districts under Title 1 of the federal school aid act, a program begun in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. They are designed to provide schools with additional funds to help students overcome obstacles from impoverished families and neighborhoods. The money pays for more teachers, counseling, instructional material and training for parents.
Washington has reduced Title 1 funding. In the past, with more Title 1 money, the Los Angeles district distributed its share to schools where at least 40 percent of the students are classified as living in poverty.
Now, with less money to allocate, the school board voted to raise the level to 50 percent. This means funds would be cut off to the 23 schools. “We have less Title 1 money to give out,” Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy told me. He said the district should “concentrate the funds in schools where there is the greatest concentration” of poverty.
The impact would be painful. Los Angeles Times reporter Howard Blume told how the decision would affect Superior Street Elementary in Chatsworth, where 43 per cent of the students are low income. The cut would deprive the school of $200,000 a year, which pays for an instructional coach, intervention teachers, teacher aides, a library aide and a clerical worker, who also acts as an informal nurse. The school’s academic level has risen. “We could not have made these gains without the support of this funding for these children,” said Principal Jerilyn Schubert. “I’m devastated,” said Schubert, “I just want to cry. I really do.”
At the Westside’s Los Angeles Center For Enriched Studies (LACES) Magnet, Principal Harold Boger said the school would lose $460,000, which pays two teachers, a counselor, a three-and-a-half day nurse, math intervention programs, a parents representative, two educational aides and choir assistance. One of my granddaughters is a student there, and through my daughter I have seen the extensive e-mail and organizing campaign being waged by the parents.
“Are the low-income children at LACES and the other affected schools somehow less deserving of intervention services, tutoring and after school programs than a student who attends a school a few blocks away with a slightly higher percentage of Title 1 student?” parent Elizabeth Dennehy wrote to school board member Steve Zimmer, who voted for the cut.
School board member Tamar Galatzan, the only board member to vote against the cuts, said the district, in allocating the money, doesn’t know what programs work. Before cutting, she said, “we need to know what programs are helping. Is it dropout prevention, is it Saturday classes, and is it smaller class size?”
At Galatzan’s town hall recently, many parents asked questions about the Title 1 funds. They had been alerted by calls from Galatzan’s office, and by protest organizers’ e-mails and letters.
An LAUSD source told me the matter still could come up again. Perhaps the protests are working.