The American Civil Liberties Union is alleging that the Fresno Unified School District wants to wrongly use state money intended for high-need students and has refused to comply with the law.
In a complaint filed this week, the ACLU claims the school district did not follow laws pertaining to the Local Control and Accountability Plan as required by the state’s funding formula for schools. Under the formula, districts get more funding depending on the number of low-income students, English learners and foster children enrolled.
But the ACLU says the funds earmarked specifically for high-need students are planned for things like school renovations, custodial support and for a Fresno Police Department program.
Fresno Unified officials also failed to adequately explain to parents and community members how they intended to use the funds, according to the ACLU, which is threatening legal recourse if the district does not reallocate those funds and provide more justification for its spending plan.
“The district unremittingly ignores the law and continues to deprive high-need students of state-allocated (supplemental and concentration) funding by refusing to comply with the law … We have explained these legal requirements to the district multiple times apparently to no avail,” says the complaint, filed Wednesday.
“The district’s consistent failure to provide a legally sufficient justification under the (Local Control Funding Formula) regulations compels a finding that (supplemental and concentration) funds are improperly being used at the school sites.”
The complaint was filed with district Superintendent Michael Hanson and the constituent services office. The district has outlined its plans for the use of the money, but has not yet received approval to move forward.
The ACLU particularly takes issue with the district’s spending on ShotSpotter – gunshot tracking technology used by police to track gang-related crime across the city. When the district first invested $500,000 in the police program in February, the Fresno Teachers Association spoke out against it, saying education dollars could be better spent on something more proactive.
The district cannot subsidize its pre-existing costs to maintain schools by misappropriating funding meant for high-need students.
According to the ACLU, $440,000 of Fresno Unified’s supplemental and concentration funds from the state – the category meant for high-need students – will go toward security enhancements including ShotSpotter.
“The district cannot justify funding a Fresno Police Department ‘shot spotter’ program with (supplemental and concentration) funds. This program unfairly increases funding for a Fresno Police Department program by taking money away from high-need student programming,” the complaint says. “Being able to pinpoint where shots are fired will not help any student in the district, let alone high-need students specifically.”
The ACLU contends that school districts should spend less on police partnerships and more on counseling and mental health professionals. The organization also says that by labeling some schools as “high crime areas” it can harm students living in those areas.
This is not the first time Fresno Unified’s use of the Local Control Funding Formula has been criticized. Trustees Carol Mills and Brooke Ashjian have voiced concerns in the past year about the district not adhering to its requirements.
The ACLU also demands justification for funding being allocated for what it says are vague uses: $15 million to school sites, $6 million to maintain a middle school redesign, $4 million for “employee supports” and $6 million for bathrooms and custodians.
“Under no circumstance can renovations of bathrooms and additional custodians be considered a program ‘principally directed’ for high-need students,” the complaint says. “The district cannot subsidize its pre-existing costs to maintain schools by misappropriating funding meant for high-need students.”
We respectfully disagree with the ACLU’s position.
Fresno Unified School District
In a statement Friday, Fresno Unified said “we respectfully disagree” with the ACLU’s allegations, pointing out that the organization criticizes its use of the high-need funding for special education and safety programs. The district says more than 74 community outreach meetings were held to help develop its spending plan.
“California’s Local Control Funding Formula has afforded the Fresno Unified School District the opportunity to allocate resources for our greatest needs, identified with the assistance of a variety of stakeholders. We are fully confident that our Local Control Accountability Plan process is consistent with state guidelines and local priorities. We take great pride in funding schools equitably, making decisions locally and measuring school achievement broadly,” the district said. “The district is proud of its process and implementation.”
The ACLU says it met with district officials about the funding concerns as recently as August, but that Fresno Unified repeatedly ignored its recommended changes over the past year.
The complaint is part of the Uniform Complaint Procedures under the state Department of Education, which are filed when dealing with violations of federal or state laws or regulations. The ACLU gave Fresno Unified until Tuesday, Sept. 27, to comply. The next step for the ACLU could be a lawsuit.