By Laura Brady-Allen
Eagle Rock Elementary School (ERES) is facing a budget cut of $125,000 in the coming school year and possibly much more in subsequent years.
The looming cutback, disclosed at a parent meeting in March, has the school community “highly alarmed,” said ERES Principal Stephanie Leach, adding, “I share their concerns.”
At stake is ERES’s “Title 1” federal funding for schools with low-income students. Under a threshold that is set by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), schools in L.A. are eligible for Title 1 money when at least 50% of their students meet the program’s definition of “low income.”
ERES has qualified for Title 1 money every year for more than 40 years.
But in a recent analysis, the share of low-income students at ERES dipped to 49.1%. As a result, LAUSD is set to slash the school’s Title 1 funding — from $244,000 currently to $119,000 in the 2019-2020 school year and to zero in subsequent years (unless the share of low-income students returns to at least 50%.)
When the budget cuts kick in, key positions will be in jeopardy, including teaching assistants, a coordinator to develop, direct and implement academic programs and a community representative who works as a parent liaison. Money to help pay for professional development for teachers will also be at risk.
The school community reacts
Some educational policy experts – as well as ERES parents who attended the parent meeting in March – say LAUSD’s hard-and-fast 50% threshold is overly harsh.
They point out that ERES is being severely docked, even though it barely missed the 50% mark needed to qualify for Title 1 funds in L.A.
They also point out that at a large school like ERES, the share of low-income students (49.1%) still works out to 392 boys and girls. That is more than the entire student body at some schools that receive Title 1 funding. For instance, Yorkdale Elementary School in Highland Park, with some 250 students in total and 215 low income students (86%) qualified for about $150,000 in the 2018-2019 school year, according to the LAUSD School Spending Report.
Moreover, cuts to Title 1 funding may be especially counterproductive at schools like ERES. “There is increasing evidence that ‘income-diverse’ schools, like the neighborhood schools in Eagle Rock, are particularly effective at educating students,” said Bevin Ashenmiller, an ERES parent and economics professor at Occidental College. “Yet the current district policy punishes these schools and makes budgeting extremely challenging.”
What can be done?
ERES parents can ask for most of the school’s Title 1 funding to be reinstated by contacting Mónica García, the president of the School Board. (ERES and other schools in the area will not have their own School Board member until after the election on May 14.)
One argument in the parents’ favor is that federal guidelines allow Title 1 money to be distributed to schools where at least 40% of students are low income. LAUSD’s tougher 50% threshold is intended to target Title 1 funds on high poverty schools, but in the case of ERES, it is cutting aid to a school with nearly 400 low-income students.
That is clearly a perverse outcome. What is unclear is whether LAUSD will find a way to fix it.
Who Gets Title 1 Money and Who Doesn’t
The LAUSD formula for distributing Title 1 funds is hard on Eagle Rock Elementary because it is a relatively large school where just under half the children (49.1%) are low-income. Here’s how Title 1 money is allocated:
1. Schools where 65% to 100% of students qualify as low-income receive $735 per low-income student.
2. Schools where 50% to 64% of students qualify as low-income receive $559 per low-income student.
3. Schools where less than 50% of students qualify as low-income receive $337 per low-income student in the first year that a school falls below the 50% threshold; $0 thereafter.