Note: This commentary comes from School Board Member Tamar Galatzan, District 3.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles School Board voted 6-1 to raise the threshold for what qualifies as a Title I school from 40 to 50% of the student body. I was the lone dissenting vote, and I am outraged, angry and demoralized.
This may sound like bureaucratic school district lingo, so let me translate: the school board voted that in order to qualify for federal Title I funds, at least half the students at a given school must qualify for free and reduced lunch. In other words, if 48% of your student body lives in poverty, you get no Title I money, but if 50% lives in poverty, you do. The effect will be immediate and devastating; schools that lose Title I funds can lose hundreds of thousands of dollars. And in today’s already dire financial climate, that can spell the difference between a functioning school and a failing one.
A total of 23 schools across the district will lose Title I funding as a result of this decision; 8 of them—or one third—are in my district. [Editor's Note: Germain Street and Superior Street elementary shools are in Chatsworth.]
That money will be diverted to schools where at least 75% of students are impoverished.
A list of the schools that would be affected was not released until late last week. The schools themselves were not told. When my office called to let them know they were on the list, the principals were stunned. “I cannot run a school without that money,” said Bette Kaplan of Hamlin Elementary School in the West Valley. John Plevack, Principal of Millikan Middle School, an award-winning middle school in Sherman Oaks, told the Board yesterday, “This will devastate my school.”
Why should a poor student who attends a school that is 42% Title I not have access to intervention services, tutoring or after school programs, while a student who lives a few blocks away and attends a school that is 51% Title I can receive all of that? That is not equitable. Are we telling students they should go to poorer schools to get better services, tutoring, and technology?
The federal government is cutting Title I funds to California, so LAUSD has fewer dollars to spend on students who live in poverty. What we should be doing is evaluating the programs we have, identifying the programs that work, and prioritizing spending on those. Only then can we decide how best to support the students with the greatest needs.
I am furious at this decision, and the message it sends to the students, parents and teachers in the San Fernando Valley and Westside. We should be focusing on supporting every student in poverty by figuring out what personnel and programs help student succeed and funding those at as many schools as possible. Get ready for a wave of new charter schools. We have left many of our schools no choice but to leave the district to survive.
-- Tamar Galatzan
School Board Member, District 3