The following article was originally published May 18, 2020, and republished through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.
Story by Kyle Stokes
Last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said that a sharp drop in state revenues could force the state to slash funding for K-12 education by roughly 10% — comparable to the hit schools took in the Great Recession — unless the federal government steps in with aid immediately.
On Monday, Los Angeles Unified School District's leader issued a stark warning: such a cut would do deep and lasting harm to the state's largest school system.
"Cuts to funding at schools will forever impact the lives of children," Superintendent Austin Beutner said in his weekly video update. "The harm children are facing is just as real a threat to them as is the coronavirus."
Beutner did not say how badly this cut would hit LAUSD's bottom line, but he promised details "in the coming days and weeks." Tomorrow, the L.A. Unified School Board is scheduled to hold its first open meeting in more than two months — and an update on the district's budget is on the agenda.
THE EFFECT OF BUDGET CUTS
In his speech, Beutner said funding cuts could make that problem worse:
Why aren't we able to provide the funding to prevent this from happening? Is it because the harm is silent and unseen unlike the images of overrun hospitals? Is it because children don't have a voice? Or is it because so many of the families we serve are living in poverty and don't have access to the corridors of power in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.?
Beutner's comments also come amid warnings from districts statewide that Newsom's proposed $6.5 billion cut to the state's main K-12 funding formula could jeopardize schools' efforts to resume in-person instruction in the fall — a task that will likely require more funding for protective gear, more frequent campus cleanings and increased staffing.
In a statement last week, the California School Boards Association's president, Xilonin Cruz-Gonzalez, warned the governor's budget proposal "would be insufficient in ordinary times and is less than what is required for most schools to reopen safely during a pandemic."
In L.A., Beutner has previously estimated pandemic response efforts will blow a roughly $200 million hole in the school district's budget by year's end. Among the extraordinary — and potentially unreimbursed — costs: distributing meals for adults, technology purchases, and an expanded summer school program.
LAUSD is likely dipping into its savings to cover some of those crisis expenditures. Before the pandemic, officials estimated LAUSD would end the year with an unrestricted reserve of $811 million. (The district's approved budget is roughly $9 billion.)
OTHER UPDATES IN BEUTNER'S SPEECH
Here are a few other items Beutner mentioned:
- Parent survey results: LAUSD surveyed parents on the district's eastside — "in the area from Lincoln Heights to South Gate" — and found mostly positive feedback about how the district has responded to the pandemic, Beutner said. Of more than 12,000 families, 75% rated the district's response as "excellent" or "good," compared to about 21% who rated it "fair" or "poor." Only 13% of respondents said they were receiving LAUSD assistance "less than once per week."
- Technology access remains an issue: The same survey numbers showed access to technology and the internet remains LAUSD's "biggest challenge," Beutner said. Roughly half of respondents still lacked reliable internet and about 25% lack a device. While it's not clear when this survey was conducted, LAUSD announced last week that "just about every" student who needed one had received a district-issued laptop.
- Connection rates: Beutner noted how online learning management systems have gone from being "minor supplements" to in-classroom instruction to being "the main event" for distance learning. But he said different classrooms rely on different platforms. Every school in the district has to use LAUSD's official Schoology website to post grades. But some classroom teachers rely on popular systems like "ClassDojo, Seesaw, Google Classroom and Nearpod" — and LAUSD is not yet able to track how often students use these sites to complete their schoolwork: "We are working with the providers of these tools to tie them together. Fixing it will take a bit of work but it's not rocket science."
- English learners: Beutner shared figures from three LAUSD schools showing how many students have been logging into the district's online learning systems. He said "English Learners are participating at the same level as their peers" in these three schools. Beutner said roughly 4,000 educators have sat for training "to hone their skills in creating lessons for English Learners to use in a virtual setting."