Sixteen struggling Los Angeles Unified schools will lose nearly $60 million from a state program designed to boost student achievement after they fell short in raising scores on standardized tests, according to officials.
The district campuses are among roughly 130 statewide that will be dropped July 1 for failing to meet requirements of California's Quality Education Investment Act. With a fund of $2.7 billion, QEIA is designed to help nearly 500 California schools shrink class size and improve teaching staff as a way to raise test scores.
With the state mired in a financial crisis that has slashed public school funding, QEIA has been viewed as a godsend by districts trying to improve student reading and math skills and raise graduation rates. Without the state windfall to hire and train more teachers, officials say, the schools will have to find the money elsewhere or simply do without.
"It's devastating to a school," said Bo Vitolo, who oversees QEIA programs throughout Southern California for the Los Angeles County Office of Education. "In this fiscal climate, it's really a challenge."
QEIA was created in 2006 to settle a legal battle between the California Teachers Association and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, after he suspended funding for public schools.
A total of 488 California schools were selected to participate, including about 100 in Los Angeles Unified. The schools all scored in the lowest 20 percent on the state's Academic Performance Index test, and most are in poor and predominantly Latino neighborhoods.
Schools get money based on enrollment - $500 for each student in kindergarten through third grade, $900 for grades 4-8 and $1,000 for each high-schooler.
QEIA schools got three years to phase in seven performance benchmarks, which had to be fully implemented in 2010-11.
The student-teacher ratio for K-3 classes can be no larger than 20 to 1, for instance, although the district norm is 24 to 1. High schools must have a counselor for every 300 students, a ratio that may be as high as 600 to 1 at the average campus.
The most critical mandate requires schools to exceed their API growth target, based on a three-year average of its scores.
Three LAUSD high schools - Jordan, Fremont and Manual Arts - lost their funds in 2011-12, despite a three-year QEIA investment totaling $22 million.
Seven other high schools, along with four middle and five elementary schools will be terminated in 2012-13 for missing their API targets.
Those 16 schools received a total of $20 million for the current fiscal year. Had they been able to continue in the program through 2014-15, when QEIA is now set to expire, they would have raked in some $60 million.
Three of the middle schools on the list - Carver, Gompers and Stevenson Middle schools - are among those taken over by the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a reform movement organized by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Together, the three campuses received about $4.3 million this year. The loss to Stevenson was especially difficult since the school missed its API target by just one point.
"The schools were underserved and underperforming when we took over," said Marshall Tuck, the partnership's CEO. "We put in strong leadership, but we just couldn't move fast enough. It's absolutely heartbreaking."
LAUSD has 85 schools remaining in QEIA, including 14 in the San Fernando Valley. Among the noteworthy schools is Napa Elementary in Northridge, which raised 2011 API score by 130 points, the third-biggest jump in the district.
"It's important to say there has been some pretty magnificent improvement in some of our schools," said Donna Muncey, chief of LAUSD's Division of Intensive Support and Intervention.
Given the mixed results at QEIA schools, the state teachers union has hired an outside consultant to study the role of smaller class size and other factors on student achievement.
"We want to look at success beyond the test scores, at what is making a school successful," said CTA Vice President Eric Heins. "It's all part of a puzzle that fits together - the teachers, the school administrator, the buy-in of parents and staff."
Ironically, QEIA was authored by Tom Torlakson, a former state senator who is now the superintendent of public instruction. His agency is now responsible for administering the law, which was passed in 2006, before the recession.
QEIA mandates that money taken from schools dropped from the program be used to help the others survive. While the law says schools can receive an annual cost-of-living increase, officials say the state's financial problems make that impossible. It's more likely, they say, that QEIA will simply be extended until the original $2.7 billion allocation is exhausted.
Local schools say they'd benefit more now from the additional state money - especially with Gov. Jerry Brown threatening more budget cuts if voters reject his tax hike on the November ballot.
Reducing class size, especially in grades K-3, is becoming increasingly difficult and will be the next crisis facing QEIA schools, county and district officials say.
Deb Ernst, who oversees QEIA for LAUSD, said the program provides an additional incentive for polishing efforts that were already under way.
"There are many good things happening - not just class size," she said. "QEIA doesn't hurt, but it isn't the primary lever."