Children Left Behind in Los Angeles Schools

If the No Child Left Behind Act is to work, school districts have to take part. And early evidence indicates that in at least one major case, that’s not happening.

Since No Child Left Behind became law in 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District has received hundreds of millions of federal dollars meant to help students in failing public schools. Students in schools that did not make adequate yearly progress (AYP) for two straight years were supposed to have been offered the opportunity to attend another public school in the district or receive supplemental educational services, such as tutoring.

But, according to data submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, only 315 of the 257,636 students in failing schools in Los Angeles participated in public-school choice in the 2003-2004 school year. And citizens groups are getting fed up.

The Alliance for School Choice and Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education (CURE) recently filed complaints against the school districts of Los Angeles and Compton, Calif., for taking the NCLB money but failing to offer these remedies. CURE argues that the Department of Education should withhold future funding until the school systems comply with the law.

At issue is what is known as Title 1, Part A funding, which is dedicated to improving the performance of schools by introducing school choice or, if that wasn’t sufficient, tutoring services. Up to 20 percent of Part A funding was intended for school choice or supplemental services. But, $46 billion later, only about 1 percent of the 3.9 million eligible students nationwide had moved on to better public schools.

In many cases, this was because school districts failed to inform students of the opportunities. According to a General Accountability Office (GAO) report, only 29 percent of school districts informed parents about the school-choice option before the beginning of the 2004-2005 school year. Another 21 percent notified them only as the school year began, which allowed little time to learn about other schools or make decisions on whether to transfer. The other half of school districts didn’t inform parents until well into the school year, thus effectively preventing them from participating.

School districts fared only slightly better on providing special educational services; 17 percent of eligible students participated.

In Los Angeles, for the 2002-2003 school year, 104 of LAUSD’s 678 schools failed to make AYP for two straight years. These schools served 221,472, or 29.7 percent, of the district’s students. The next year, 111 of 695 schools failed to make AYP. These schools served 257,637 students, or 34.5 percent of the district’s students.

LAUSD received $1.2 billion in Title I, Part A funding during those school years. One fifth, or $239 million, should have gone to fund public-school choice or after-school tutoring. But just 218 students took advantage of choice the first year and 315 the next. And just 7.1 percent participated in tutoring the first of the two years and 7.4 percent the next.

Either students in Los Angeles are attending tutoring sessions in gold-plated salons and riding to their new schools in limousines, or the money isn’t being spent as intended. The latter seems likely, given a 2003 letter from Eugene Hickock, then acting deputy secretary of education, to Roy Romer, the former governor of Colorado who now heads the Los Angeles school district. The letter criticized the spending of Title I, Part A funding and questioned why the school system used so little of its money on tutoring.

According the most recent data, LAUSD still doesn’t spend its Title I, Part A funding properly. Kids in failing schools remain there and don’t get the help they need. Parents deserve better.

If Los Angeles can’t spend the federal government’s money properly, it shouldn’t receive any more until it improves. Parents and leaders should work to provide other opportunities to move students out of failing schools.

It’s time that Los Angeles lives up to its obligations to the students in its care.

David Muhlhausen is a senior policy analyst in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation.