Report details Fresno Unified's plan to redirect money away from high-need students

File photo shows children in a Fresno Unified classroom. (KFSN)

California has been trying to make education more equitable for all students, by giving schools with high-need students, money to help improve the academic achievement of those students.

But the State found that Fresno Unified redirected taxpayer money for those high-need students to fill budget gaps and fund things like maintenance, police services, and building upgrades.

The problem is outlined in a new report released Monday by ACLU Foundations of California and Fresno Building Healthy Communities.

At the center of the report is a 2014 law called the Local Control Funding Formula, that drastically changed how the state funds public schools. One of the major goals of the law was to promote equity for "high-need students," a group that includes low-income students, foster youth, and English-language learners. Under the law, schools get "supplemental and concentration" funds -- called S&C funds -- to establish programs that primarily help high-need students.

The groups said that when Fresno Unified prepared its 2016-2017 budget they became concerned by three issues: the District did not adequately explain how nearly 90% of the S&C funds would be used to help high-need students, the district did not set specific outcomes for high-need students, and S&C funds would be used to fund police officers and the Fresno Police Department's shot spotter system, with what the groups felt like was an inadequate explanation of how that money would benefit high-need students.

After trying to resolve their concerns directly with Fresno Unified, the groups filed a complaint with the California Department of Education in December 2016.

After a lengthy review, the state agreed with some of the group's accusations.

Starting with the 2017-2018 budget, the state has compelled Fresno Unified to be more transparent about how S&C funds will primarily help high-need students and redirect all S&C funds not currently being used for that purpose. The state rejected the allegation that the district did not set specific outcomes for high-need students.

Fresno Unified said that it "is pleased to report that all concerns were resolved in May 2017" and it "worked in collaboration with California Department of Education Director Jeff Breshears in establishing and implementing the corrective actions resulting in an approved 2017/18 LCAP (budget)."

But the groups want Fresno Unified to go further.

The just-released report asks for six things: that draft budgets be released earlier for public review, ensure the budget is easy to understand with explanations of how S&C funds will primarily help high-need students, engage the community in a meaningful way, provide more for parent engagement, provide reasons for why community requests is or is not included in the budget, and finally, use the budget to ensure a reduction in the achievement gap, provide social-emotional support for students, and promote and preserve students' ethnic language and culture.

In a statement to Action News, Fresno Unified said that it appreciates the report's feedback and that it "will continue to consider the informative report while working through the continuing LCAP (budget) development."

FULL STATEMENT BY FRESNO UNIFIED:
"Fresno Unified appreciates ACLU's feedback provided in their report this afternoon. The district is pleased to report that all concerns were resolved in May 2017 as evidenced by the attached communication. The district worked in collaboration with California Department of Education Director Jeff Breshears in establishing and implementing the corrective actions resulting in an approved 2017/18 LCAP. The district will continue to consider the informative report while working through the continuing LCAP development."
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educationfresno unified school districtschool fundingcalifornia department of educationFresno County
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