Major California school districts fear they will be shortchanged millions of dollars in funding for their low-income students under new state rules requiring them to verify family incomes every year.
Officials in Los Angeles, San Diego, Fresno and elsewhere are scrambling to collect verification forms but said that hundreds of families have not yet turned them in — potentially jeopardizing funding that school districts are counting on this year. At stake, for instance, is $200 million in L.A. Unified and $6 million in San Diego.
The districts are urging the state to guarantee them all funding due this year, based on last year's count of low-income students, whether the new forms are turned in or not.
Under a new law this year, districts are receiving extra money for students who are low income, learning English or in foster care — a boost that amounts to about $2,800 per pupil in L.A. Unified. State officials say the rules are necessary to ensure that the extra dollars are going to those who actually qualify for them.
"We have to make sure that the (new system) is being driven by real students and their needs," said Erin Gabel, director of government affairs for the California Department of Education.
But many districts are objecting, saying they already verify students' family income every four years for the federally subsidized meal program. A separate, annual effort for the state risks missing some students and costs districts both time and money to complete, they said.
"The whole thing is outrageous," L.A. Unified schools Superintendent John Deasy said. "Give our kids their fair share."
In the Fresno Unified School District, for instance, hundreds of families have declined to fill out the income forms — possibly because of fears associated with immigration, according to Ruth Quinto, the district's chief financial officer.
Parents also may be confusing the new state forms with the federal meals documents they already have filled out, some community organizers said.