After a series of public records requests and a lot of number crunching, NLSLA education attorney Chelsea Helena had hard proof of what she already suspected: In the Antelope Valley, state funds intended for low-income students, English learners, and foster youth—most of them Black and Latinx—are going unspent, or being used in ways that further marginalize these students.
In the 2019-2020 school year alone, more than $6.9 million intended for high-needs students in the Antelope Valley Union High School District was left unused or was used for improper purposes, with minimal reporting and seemingly no oversight.
“This is particularly egregious in a school district known for criminalizing high-needs students instead of helping them learn,” said Helena, a former teacher who left the profession to seek justice for high-needs students and students of color. “This is money the state provides to ensure vulnerable students have what they need to succeed. But the AV Union High School District is taking the money and then allowing those students to languish.”
Earlier this month, NLSLA, representing the parent of a district student who is impacted by these policies, and Equal Justice Society, representing Cancel the Contract – Antelope Valley, an organization fighting discrimination in education in the area, filed a complaint with the district. The complaint details the district’s failure to comply with legal requirements governing school spending plans—known as Local Control Accountability Plans—and demands the district investigate budget discrepancies, adhere to state-mandated reporting requirements, and require each school to clearly demonstrate how these funds are used to serve the high-needs students for whom they were allocated.
For instance, the district allocated $1.7 million in funds intended for low-income students, English learners, and foster youth to pay for a contract with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, but failed to describe how increased enforcement will serve these students. In fact, decades of research has shown that the presence of law enforcement on school campuses disproportionately harms the high needs students of color who are supposed to benefit from these funds. These expenditures—along with the millions that were entirely unaccounted for—have come at the cost of proven strategies that can close opportunity gaps for high-needs students.
In November of last year, NLSLA filed a major lawsuit against the California Department of Education for allowing dozens of school districts to suspend, expel, and transfer students of color—and Black students in particular—at alarming rates, sanctioning an unequal system. Among the districts whose practices were highlighted in the complaint, the Antelope Valley Union High School District was the most egregious.
“This is a district that has consistently shown disregard for the futures of Black and Latinx students,” Helena said. “Leaving this money on the table—this money that was supposed to undo some of the historic harms that have left these students at a severe disadvantage—is unconscionable.”
The more than 1,000 districts in California receive this funding based on the number of high-needs students in their care. A systemic lack of transparency has allowed districts like the AV to deprive these students the resources they deserve. NLSLA will continue to advocate on behalf of high-needs students in the Antelope Valley to ensure they get access to the education that is their right.