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Community Coalition of South LA & Reyna Frias v. LAUSD

Holding School Districts Accountable Under California’s 2013 Education Finance Reform Law

Public Advocate’s priority work and tactics are set not only to win today’s battles, but also to make sure those victories are sustained and improved upon for decades to come. For 50 years, Public Advocates has not just advocated for stronger educational policies, funding and legislation alongside our community partners, we have continued to monitor implementation and enforce the new legal rights we have won.

In 2013, Public Advocates and our partners helped win and shape a generational victory, equitably reforming the state’s school funding and accountability law. The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF)  requires school districts to invest more resources in high-need students, provide transparency in how the money was spent, and engage local parents and students in reviewing district spending plans and determining educational programs.

In 2015, Public Advocates sent a powerful message on accountability and the importance of centering high-need students to school districts across the state. With co-counsel from the ACLU and Covington & Burling, we represented the Community Coalition of South Los Angeles and parent Reyna Frias in a challenge against the state’s largest school district after a spending plan revealed troubling accounting practices that would have resulted in the loss of nearly $2 billion worth of services over the coming half-decade—including counseling, tutoring, and other educational supports— for high needs students, mainly in low-income communities.

The lawsuit, the first to challenge a California school district under the state’s education funding reform law known as the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF),  was ultimately settled in 2017 after a victorious 2016 administrative ruling in which the California Department of Education agreed with plaintiffs that LAUSD’s practices were improperly shorting high-need students of services they were owed. Plaintiff Reyna Frias, whose son was an LAUSD student at the time, reacted to the settlement.

Plaintiff Reyna Frias

Plaintiff Reyna Frias

“I am overjoyed to see that so many of our kids will be provided with the new services they have been waiting for,” said Reyna Frias, an LAUSD parent and plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It has been a long effort, but well worth the time our students and parents dedicated to it.”

“I am overjoyed to see that so many of our kids will be provided with the new services they have been waiting for.”

Reyna Frias

In a story on the settlement by the Los Angeles Times Alberto Retana, chief executive of plaintiff Community Coalition, a Los Angeles community-based organization organizing around education and neighborhood issues, said the settlement would “immediately improve the lives of students.”

Its impact was both immediate, and far-reaching.

This extraordinary first victory enforcing LCFF prompted the California Department of Education to require LAUSD to properly allocate its funding going forward. The final settlement went beyond the CDE order to win an agreement concerning the prior years of mis-spent funds. Specifically, the settlement required LAUSD to allocate $150 million in services over 3 years to the district’s 50 highest-need middle and high schools, mostly in South and East Los Angeles, to pay for increased tutoring, mental health support, counseling, parent participation, restorative justice and other increased and improved services.

Since Community Coalition of South Los Angeles & Reyna Frias v. LAUSD, Public Advocates and its partners continue to monitor the enforcement of the Local Control Funding Formula law in Los Angeles and other school districts and counties throughout California. Some notable efforts include PA’s work in West Contra Costa County and San Jose in Northern California; in San Bernardino and other Southern California communities such as in Pomona, where community partners Gente Organizada and the Pomona Students Union were able to stop their school district from spending LCFF generated funds on police security services that should have been spent on educational supports for high-need students. That effort led to the publication of a ground-breaking research report on March 5, 2020, titled “Our Right to Resources: School Districts are Cheating Students to Fund Law Enforcement.”  In it, 56 California school districts were found to have illegally diverted money intended for English learners, foster youth, and low-income students towards police, security guards or other hardening measures such as surveillance equipment. A subsequent enforcement action against San Bernardino county regarding its lax oversight of several school districts established additional important precedents affirming both the need for districts to account for all of their LCFF equity obligation to high-need students and the suspect nature of school policing measures to serve that obligation.

Public Advocates and our community partners will continue to make sure California delivers on the promise of the Local Control Funding law, no matter how long it takes.

Featured image: Plaintiff Reyna Frias