25 Apr A Tale of Two Schools
By Sandra Hamada
“If I would have gone to my home school, I really wouldn’t be prepared for college,” says 17-year-old Siria Diego, who rides the 6 a.m. bus to attend high school in west L.A.
Diego is the youngest of five children, raised by immigrant parents who are unemployed and struggle to maintain stable jobs.
A new state law called the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) — which gives more money to school districts with low-income students like Diego, as well as English-language learners and foster children — will bring billions of dollars to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
These funds have the potential to dramatically improve the schools in areas of concentrated poverty and put an end to long trips like Diego’s.
“Our parents made a conscious decision to enroll her in a good school to give her the opportunity to excel,” says Diego’s older brother Glauz, who graduated from Fremont High School in South L.A. and had to take extra steps to graduate from Cal State L.A..
Ronald Lamb wakes up at 3:30 a.m. to reach his first job of the day. He began caring for his 17-year-old sister, Briana, and a younger brother, 9 years ago, when their mother died and their father was overcome with grief.
Ronald’s parents had sent him to Westchester High School, where he “had everything,” compared to the education his siblings are receiving in South L.A.
Since he was commuting to Cal State Northridge three times a week when he became a caregiver at 19, Ronald had to keep his siblings in the same schools. “I was fighting [for time], studying on lunch breaks [and] late at night. It was difficult. And I really couldn’t have [Briana] in another area” he says.
During Briana’s junior year, she was placed in the wrong courses. Her counselors turned her away when she requested to have her schedule changed.
“I was a junior and I had three home periods,” she said. “This was my most important year to prepare [for] college! I was missing my biology class, chemistry class and English.”
Briana and her peers collected petitions and let students know they could have their courses changed. The district fixed the problems six weeks after classes began.
Briana was never placed in a proper English course forcing her to fulfill the requirement in summer school. Now a senior, she fights to take honors and advanced placement (AP) courses, which continue to get cancelled.
Meanwhile, Diego has taken six honors and AP courses in west L.A.
SOUTH L.A. AT THE FOREFRONT OF PROGRESS
Unequal conditions for South L.A. schools are not new.
In 1996, South Central Youth Empowered through Action (SCYEA), Community Coalition’s youth group, forced LAUSD to re-distribute $150 million of voter-approved money for basic school repairs. Later, they ensured all schools would offer the classes needed to apply to college. Last year, they helped stop LAUSD from expulsing students from classes for “willful defiance.”
In 2012, Community Coalition activists contacted over 30,000 residents to help pass Proposition 30, which raises taxes on the rich to fund schools and public services.
BIG CHANGES TO SCHOOL FUNDING
Community activists then worked with state officials to adopt LCFF, which goes beyond giving more money to districts where more students show up for class, such as Beverly Hills Unified, than those with lower attendance rates, like LAUSD.
Now, districts will receive additional funding for every high-needs student. And if high-needs students make up more than 55% of the student population, districts qualify for additional funds.
Under this historic change, LAUSD will get more than $400 million next year and up to $2 billion per year by 2020. Now the fight is to ensure that LAUSD distributes the supplemental money it is getting to the neediest schools.
“The model that we choose will be hugely consequential over the next set of years,” says Dr. John Rogers, professor and director of the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA) at UCLA’s School of Education.
Like South LA students and residents, Rogers believes LAUSD should look at neighborhood level data, rather than how many students in a school qualify for reduced or free lunch. “Even though I go to school in west L.A., I would want the money to go South Los Angeles,” says Diego. “We shouldn’t have to leave our community to get a quality education”, when defining high needs that lead to additional funds.
“There are some people who say the money should be spread evenly. I don’t think it should,” says Briana Lamb.
“Why would you give our schools the same as a school that has better or more resources than us?”
Sandra Hamada is the director of Youth Programs at Community Coalition