Are desegregation funds helping?

Nov 17, 2013 by

By Michael Gardner –

The state annually sends nearly $1 billion in special desegregation funds to school districts throughout California, including $64 million to San Diego Unified.

But those dollars are delivered with no strings attached, no master system to track where the money goes and there is no proof required that the programs actually work.

Moreover, the distribution formulas have not changed for years despite rapidly evolving demographics and only a few of the districts must still comply with court orders to integrate classrooms. That’s a testament to decades-long integration strategies that include busing, magnet schools and a focus on improving neighborhood schools with large enrollments of minority students.

Nevertheless, attempts to eliminate the block grant have been swiftly beaten back. The biggest defenders are the largest urban districts with the most to lose: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst was the latest to try and fail.

“We don’t see it as meeting the intent for which it was created,” Carolyn Chu, an education analyst with the office, said of the block grant.

The legislative analyst recommended that the $855 million eventually be folded into a new school funding formula promoted by Gov. Jerry Brown and adopted by the Legislature for the 2013-14 school year. Brown’s budget reform increased the amount each district receives, but also delivers extra to those with large enrollments of students who do not speak English well or who are poor. The desegregation grant would go away as a bonus in 2020-21, under the analyst’s proposal.

Much is at stake for schools in San Diego County. Combined, the grant means about $86 million countywide, with San Diego Unified claiming the lion’s share of $64.4 million. Others include Vista Unified, $2.8 million; Sweetwater Union High, 2.3 million; and Chula Vista Elementary, $1.5 million. Seven other districts receive more than $1 million.

San Diego Unified is the state’s second largest district behind Los Angeles with 130,000 students. Of those, nearly half are identified as either Latino. White enrollment stands at about a quarter and one in 10 students are African American.

The grant was created in 2001-02, combining a mix of state assistance programs for about 550 school districts implementing various types of desegregation strategies rooted in the historic 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling declaring that separate schools for whites and blacks was unconstitutional. Later court decisions and revisions in law have also changed school integration. San Diego Unified in 1998 was released from a court-supervised desegregation plan, but remains committed to follow those guidelines.

“It has been a critical, stand alone integration fund that has benefitted many of our students for decades,” then-San Diego Unified Superintendent Bill Kowba said during a hearing on the Legislative Analysts proposal last spring.

The district, he testified, “applied these funds to other integration strategies, including increasing enrollment options for our students who live in racially isolated areas, decreasing class sizes for high-needs schools, transporting our students to magnet schools across the district and increasing parent involvement.”

In a recent interview, Chu, the analyst, said one of the drawbacks is that districts are not measured for success,

via Are desegregation funds helping? |

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