Too Many White Students Means Funding Cuts for ‘Desegregated’ LA School 

Susan Shelley

Columnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”


This fall, Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood is set to lose some of its funding because it has too many white students.

Parents were told at an informational meeting on March 15 that the cuts could mean the layoff of some teachers because class size was going to increase.

Later, the district found a way to preserve some of those jobs by switching to a per-pupil funding model. But even under that alternate method of calculation, the school is losing funding because it has too many white students.

Principal Jeanne Gamba explained the situation in a March 13 letter. “Based on a final review by the Student Integration Services Office,” she wrote, “Walter Reed MS will be exiting PHBAO (Predominantly Hispanic, Black, Asian and Other Non-Anglo) status next school year.”

Gamba said “the data collected from the Fall Ethnic Survey Report” showed that over 30 percent of the school’s area-resident students are “other-white,” and that means Reed will become “a Desegregated/Receiver school” for the 2017-2018 academic year.

This is “based on District Court-Ordered Integration guidelines,” the principal wrote.

Did you follow that?

Walter Reed Middle School is “desegregated.”

And for that, they’re losing funding.

“Families may contact the attendance office if they would like to review their self-identified ethnicity,” Gamba wrote, in what sounds like a thinly veiled plea for help. Maybe she’s hoping a cotton-swab DNA test will reveal that half the white students are related to Cleopatra.

How did funding for education in Los Angeles come to be controlled by the “Fall Ethnic Survey Report?” To find the answer, we’ll have to travel back in time to the era of hoop skirts and horses, when the U.S. Civil War ended and schools were racially segregated in the American South, but also in the North.

In 1868, the 14th Amendment was added to the Constitution. It guaranteed “the equal protection of the laws” to all persons, but at that time, when even the U.S. Senate gallery was racially segregated, the lawmakers who approved the amendment were told by Congressional leaders that it did not ban segregation.

And for a long time, the courts agreed. In the 15 years following the adoption of the 14th Amendment, lawsuits challenged school segregation in Ohio, Indiana, Nevada, New York and California. They all failed.

But in 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation was not consistent with the equal protection of the laws and was unconstitutional. Another wave of state lawsuits began.

In 1963, the California Supreme Court ruled in the case of Jackson v. Pasadena City School District that school boards must “take steps, insofar as reasonably feasible, to alleviate racial imbalance in schools regardless of its cause.”

That set off an extended legal battle over the use of mandatory student transfers and busing to achieve desegregation. In Los Angeles, a 1978 court-ordered plan had tens of thousands of students riding buses, sometimes for two hours each way, to attend school.

In 1979, the people of California enacted Proposition 1. It limited the use of forced busing to situations that violated the federal Constitution, which was a tougher standard than California’s Supreme Court had set. Proposition 1 was eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1982 case of Crawford v. Los Angeles Board of Education.

That decision voided part of the 1978 plan, but the board voluntarily adopted a desegregation plan that held off further lawsuits and court mandates. And this is apparently what is still in effect, even though the demographic composition of the district is completely different in 2017 than it was in the 1970s.

Schools designated as PHBAO — Predominantly Hispanic, Black, Asian and Other Non-Anglo—get extra money and extra programs, starting with class-size reduction. They have extra parent-teacher conferences and a “priority staffing program” to help fill teacher vacancies. PHBAO schools participate in the “School Readiness Language Development Program,” which also includes parent-education classes, and they’re eligible for the Med-COR program—Medical-Counseling, Organizing and Recruiting—which provides extra support for high school students enrolled in the medical magnet schools.

But Walter Reed doesn’t qualify for that anymore because more than 30 percent of a school’s area-resident students are white.

The L.A. school board can change its 1970s-era desegregation plan, and it should. It’s time to send the “Fall Ethnic Survey Report” to the dustbin of history, like all the other school policies that judged children by race.

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