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Ed. Groups in California Sue Over Lack of Monitoring for ELLs and Others


A number of education organizations in California filed a lawsuit in a state court today alleging that California is violating federal laws and the state constitution by suspending the monitoring of specialized education programs for at least one year. (My first thought on this was, "Someone must be trying to save some money in a state desperately short of cash.")

The lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of California in San Francisco against the state, says programs that won’t be reviewed include those serving students who are English-language learners, migrants, neglected or delinquent, or homeless. (See the press release from groups that filed the lawsuit here.)

Shelly Spiegel Coleman, the executive director of Californians Together, one of the groups bringing the lawsuit, told me in a phone interview that without the monitoring, “the districts are not held accountable for providing the services that are needed and for using the money to support the academic success of the students.” She added that in California’s current budget crisis, the money for specialized education programs in the state "is an easy pot of money to use [for other educational purposes] when no one is looking.”

Jack O’Connell, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, announced in a March 23 memo to school districts that he was suspending all “non-mandated on-site categorical program monitoring visits for at least one year.” He wrote: “During these challenging times, I want districts and schools to be able to focus their energy on improving student achievement and not on preparing for program audits.”

Spiegel Coleman contended said the department may be saving on travel costs but not salaries because the consultants who usually do the monitoring are still working for the California Department of Education. She contends that the federal money the department gets for monitoring should be spent on monitoring.

O'Connell's memo says, "I have directed my staff to use the time and resources they will save from not conducting on-site reviews to conduct a top-to-bottom review of our compliance monitoring system."

June 12 Update: Hilary McLean, the director of communications for the state education department, explained to me that the state has less need to monitor state specialized programs that are paid for with "categorical funds" because the new state budget gives school districts a huge amount of flexibility in how they can spend that money. In some cases, she said, because of budget cuts, the programs won't exist anymore. "How effective would monitoring be if districts aren't obligated to use the funds for that purpose?," she said. She also noted that the suspension of monitoring of non-mandated state programs is a separate issue from the monitoring of programs funded by federal dollars in California, such as those funded with Title I or Title III funds from the No Child Left Behind Act.

What do you think? How important are on-site monitoring visits of programs by state officials for ensuring that school districts are running programs for ELLs properly?


Before shooting from the lip and irresponsibly speculating about motives, Ms. Spiegel Coleman should familiarize herself with California's 2008 Budget Act and its accompanying legislation.

To give school districts maximum flexibility in responding to unprecedented budget cuts, the Legislature granted total discretion in the use of funding appropriated for 39 specific state (not federal) education programs. These funds may now be used for any educational purpose, with no restrictions or requirements. Further, this flexibility is granted through 2012-13. For these 39 programs, compliance reviews are unnecessary, as there are no laws or regulations with which to comply.

The Department of Education will continue to provide ongoing monitoring for all federally funded programs and all specialized state programs outside of the 39 for which flexibility is granted. (California's primary program providing services to English language learners, Economic Impact Aid, is not among the 39.) All federal funds that are required to be spent on monitoring are, and will continue to be, spent on monitoring.

In 2008-09, such monitoring will primarily occur through collection and analysis of, e.g., fiscal and student achievement data, except where on-site monitoring is required by law. In addition, where warranted, non-mandated site visits will occur. Resources freed up from not conducting site visits will be used to review and restructure the department's overall compliance review system to improve its effectiveness in enhancing student achievement.

Have we learned nothing from our current economic crisis? When no one is looking to make sure that funds are being spent as intended, monkey business follows. Deregulation of the banking industry was supposed to bring greater creativity by eliminating onerous oversight. We all know how that turned out.

The decimation of the quality of public education on Jack O’Connell’s watch has been breathtaking and his proclamation of suspension of his monitoring duty is the final blow to quality. On-site monitoring visits are more critical than ever to make sure that the competing pressures of the moment do not lead desperate school districts to trade-off access for English Learners and their families. We know that California’s English Learner sub-group is the most often underperforming in California schools. History tells us that increased spending flexibility and suspended monitoring, are likely to erode any gains even more.

A review of the record of past on-site monitoring in California predicts the areas of non-compliance that are not likely to show up in Mr. O’Connell’s paper reviews. One of the most often found areas of non-compliance with federal funding requirements is the legal obligation to have school and district English learner advisory committees composed of parents and educators to advise and inform others about services. When no one comes out to hear directly from parents, teachers, and others, access and participation are the predictable victims of Mr. O’Connell’s policy. That’s why they are explicitly written into the Federal legislation. Even the patron saint of hands off government, Ronald Reagan, preached trust but verify.

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