San Bernardino County education office shortchanged minority students out of equity funding, state says – Redlands Daily Facts
The San Bernardino County Office of Education short-changed predominately low-income Black and Latino students by an estimated $166 million in state funds earmarked for programs that promote equity while improperly counting school police expenses toward the funding mandate, the California Department of Education said Monday in a landmark decision.
The decision follows a complaint filed a year ago by the Inland Congregations United for Change and the Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement.
The San Bernardino County Office of Education denied the initial allegations, prompting the complainants to file an appeal with the California Department of Education.
“To our knowledge, this is the first decision against a county and could have far-reaching implications for school funding accountability in California,” Nicole Ochi, an attorney for the San Francisco-based law firm Public Advocates Inc., who helped write the complaint. “This is a great victory for the complainants, COPE and ICUC, who are grassroots organizations that have fought long and hard for equitable allocation of resources for students of color in the Inland Empire.”
Victor Leung, director of education equity for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which also sponsored the complaint, said the decision is bittersweet.
“We are pleased that California Department of Education found in our favor, but it should have never come to this,” he said Wednesday. “San Bernardino County should have performed its duty from the beginning to ensure that the school districts spent their funding with transparency and prioritizing equity, particularly for their highest need students and communities of color.”
The state Department of Education did not require the San Bernardino County Office of Education to retroactively reallocate funds spent under the state program. However, it ordered the office not to rubber stamp future spending plans from school districts and uphold its equity funding obligations for minority students.
“The San Bernardino County superintendent of schools is pleased that the decision by the California Department of Education (CDE) validates there was no misuse or misappropriation of funds by SBCSS or the school districts involved, and does not require the San Bernardino County superintendent of schools to take any additional actions other than continue to comply with its oversight responsibilities in alignment with the new Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) template moving forward,” said Jenny Owen, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Office of Education.
She added that the decision reaffirms that the San Bernardino education office’s position that school districts have discretion as to how to utilize their funding, and that it does not have the authority to dictate how funds are managed or spent.
“It is the districts, in conjunction with their stakeholders, who determine how funds should be spent in light of their unique climate, metrics and goals,” she said. “The San Bernardino County superintendent of schools, in turn, serves in a supporting role whereby it confirms that districts have complied with the law in drafting their LCAPs so as to best support students in San Bernardino County.”
Origin of complaint
The complaint addresses funding for the 2019-20 academic year in the San Bernardino City Unified, Victor Valley Union High School and Hesperia Unified districts, which serve more than 90,000 students combined. It demands that the San Bernardino County of Office of Education seek technical assistance from the state and correct the deficiencies.
The complaint against the San Bernardino County Office of Education is the first of its kind alleging widespread deficient spending in connection with the state’s Local Control Funding Formula. The formula, enacted by state lawmakers in 2013, changed how school districts are funded, measured for results, and the services districts receive to help students achieve academic success.
According to the formula, when high-need students enroll in a school district, they bring with them state funds that must be spent on new or improved services, such as mental health intervention and strategies to close academic achievement gaps that are principally directed toward them, Ochi said.
The complaint alleges that Ted Alejandre, superintendent of the San Bernardino County Office of Education, and others misused the formula in their deficient accountability plans for 2019-20 to address goals, actions, services and expenditures for positive outcomes for high-need students.
Law enforcement expenses
According to the complaint, the county education office approved a LCAP that improperly allowed school districts to count law enforcement expenditures toward their increased and improved service requirements, harming the very students the Local Control Funding Formula is intended to protect.
Additionally, the complaint states San Bernardino Unified disclosed in its budget — but not in its accountability plan — that it spent at the time $9.5 million earmarked for high-needs students to fund its school police department.
San Bernardino Unified officials last year defended the use of LCAP funds for its police department, saying allocations were made in response to input from stakeholders, including, students, staff, and families who want safe educational environments.
Just 12% of the police budget came from LCAP funds in the 2020-21 school year and are to support the department’s career pathways, student recognition and restorative justice programs, school officials added.
Officials with the Inland Congregations United for Change and the Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement were unaware of the fund diversion and deprived of an opportunity to object, the complaint says.
Sergio Tonatiuh Luna, lead organizer for the Inland Congregations United for Change, said the decision by the California of Education provides some vindication.
“For years, our students and parents have tried to be involved in their school district’s decision making, but they have been consistently shut out, including when it comes to overspending on school police,” he said Wednesday. “Our hope is that this community victory can be leveraged in other school districts and county boards of education to meet their equity obligations to our low income, English Learners and foster youth across the state of California.”
Scarlett Juarez, a senior at Cajon High School in the San Bernardino City Unified School District and an Inland Congregations United for Change youth leader also praised the ruling.
“As an LGBTQ student who struggles with mental health, I know how important it is to invest in high needs students like me so that we are given the tools we need to succeed,” Juarez said. “It’s disappointing to see that the County has to be pressured into this accountability and I hope they do better in the future.”
County failed accountability mandate
The state Department of Education found that the San Bernardino City Unified, Victor Valley Union High School and Hesperia Unified districts improperly counted law enforcement costs toward about $14 million in equity obligations for underserved minority students, Ochi said. It also rejected the county education office’s attempts to show that school police departments help high-need students.
Specifically, the ruling singled out a Hesperia Unified LCAP goal stating “funds are being used to provide an increase of quality learning opportunities through … school police to provide greater security to all students.”
“It is unclear how the local educational agency plans to measure the effectiveness of school police officers and additional campus assistants,” the state’s ruling says. “There is not an established through-line between the local educational agency’s identified metrics and the use of school police officers and campus assistants to improve outcomes.”
The Hesperia Unified School District works diligently to meet the needs of all students, Superintendent David Olney said. “Our district is committed to meeting the requirements of the Local Control and Accountability Plan,” he added.
The San Bernardino County Office of Education plans to request that the state reconsider its decision.
This content was originally published here.