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Advocates Tout L.A. Unified Budget That Restricts Spending on School Police

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Community and student rights organizations are celebrating a recent Los Angeles Unified School District budget revision that will allocate millions in specialized funds toward combating the district's school-to-prison pipeline and prevent them from financing school police.

The Dignity in Schools Campaign announced the budget change on Tuesday. Dignity in Schools is a coalition of advocacy groups that includes organizations like the Youth Justice Coalition and Public Counsel, a Los Angeles-based law firm focused on pro bono services for the disadvantaged.

The campaign demanded that the school district, which is the second largest in the country, redirect $13.1 million in funds it had planned to spend on policing practices during the 2015-16 school year into jobs and programs aimed at improving school climate. (The district is still budgeting about $54 million for school police from other parts of its budget.)

Though the district school board adopted the revised budget, campaign organizers don't yet know how much of the redirected money will go toward their specific funding recommendations, which include using $8 million for restorative justice measures like technical assistance and staff training, as well as $5 million for hiring prevention and intervention staff in alternative schools to create counselor-student ratios of 1 to 50.

Such investments have been proven to positively transform school climate, whereas school-based policing has not, said Ruth Cusick, an education rights attorney at Public Counsel.

While a host of studies have shown that increasing counselors and mental health services contributes to lower attrition rates and better school performance among students, research concerning the effects of police on school climate has been limited and conflicting in results, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Amid the lack of research and mounting fiscal pressures, the role of school-based police has also come into question. In 2013, for example, LAUSD passed the School Climate Bill of Rights—a series of policies that, among other things, limited the function of school police by establishing administrators and school-based interventions as the primary handlers of student conduct issues.

The budget revision also serves as part of the campaign's push for investments that support the School Climate Bill of Rights, according to Cusick.

The specialized monies known as supplemental and concentration funding—which are part of California's two-year-old Local Control Funding Formula—account for more than $1 billion of the district's nearly $7 billion annual budget. That funding is meant to provide help and services to the district's at-risk students, including those who are learning English, in foster care, or in low-income households. 

Though the budget revision is a victory for the campaign, there is still room for improvement, according to Cusick. Part of the campaign's original demands also included investing $45 million for personnel support and developing an "ethnic studies" course requirement in high-need high schools.

"We're recognizing the important step that the district has taken by not having supplemental and concentration funds go to school police ... but we want to have real growth in investments that will enable all of our vulnerable youth—our young people—to learn because their school climate has been transformed and their access to their education has actually increased," said Cusick.

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