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Lawsuit: LAUSD Misappropriated Funds For High-Need Students

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District Wednesday alleging that millions of dollars intended to help low income, foster care and English-learner students were diverted to special education services.

The nonprofit law firm Public Advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California assert the nation's second largest school counted special education costs in the 2013-14 school year instead as spending on services for the students targeted under a new funding law.

The local control funding formula adopted in 2013 provides districts with higher numbers of low income, foster care and English learner students with additional funds. While districts are given discretion on how to spend the funds, the regulations require they be spent on the designated high-need students in proportion to the increase in funds received. The law is considered one of the nation's largest public undertakings to equalize educational opportunities.

"LAUSD is breaking its promise to provide my children and millions of other students in the future, with the services they need and the law says they should receive," said Reyna Frias, a mother of two students who qualify for the additional funds and a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims LAUSD included $450 million in special education spending in its 2013-14 estimate of expenditures tied to the supplemental and concentration grants determined by a district's number of low-income, foster care and English learner students. As a result, the groups claim LAUSD inflated its baseline spending, "lessening its obligation to spend new funds it will receive to increase or improve services for these students over the course of implementation."

Public Advocates and the ACLU estimate that as a result high need students were deprived of about $126 million in the 2014-15 school year and $288 million in the next. The groups conclude low-income, foster care and English learner students will miss out on more than $2 billion total by the time the law is fully implemented in 2020-21.

The lawyers are asking Los Angeles Superior Court to require the district to recalculate its previous expenditures and for the county superintendent to reject LAUSD's annual accountability plan, which it is due to approve by early August.

The suit is believed to be the first to specifically address proportional spending on high need students. The groups said they don't want LAUSD to set a precedent for other districts.

"If other districts followed LAUSD's lead the promise of LCFF would evaporate overnight," said John Affeldt, an attorney for Public Advocates.

In a board meeting in June, LAUSD leaders said local control funding has been spent on increasing the number of counselors, providing additional supports for foster care students, as well as toward the district's implementation of restorative justice. They also acknowledged spending money toward schools that had been hardest hit by the recession.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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