For Los Angeles Unified $18 Billion Won’t Save District

July 27, 2023 in Columnists, News by RBN Staff


By Joe Guzzardi

In what is certain to be financial history’s worst-ever return on investment, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) unanimously approved an $18.8 billion budget.

The district’s central budget will be $12.9 billion, but separate funds will contribute to the $18.8 billion total that will also be designated for adult education, the student body fund and construction projects. Funding will include the last federal government COVID-19 cash infusion which, in the aggregate, will reach more than $5 billion. State and federal taxpayers have paid into the LAUSD, regardless of where Sacramento officials claim the monies come from – the “separate funds” cited above. In education, the taxpayer is the first, last and only funding source.

For the astronomical, staggering $18 billion, parents and the taxpaying community, deserve educated graduates who are ready to meaningfully contribute to society. The goal, taken for granted during California’s golden 1960s era when the states’ public schools were the nation’s envy, will be elusive, and perhaps beyond reach. In truth, there may not be enough billions to reverse LAUSD’s downward spiral and insurmountable problems.

To begin with, the district’s geography is vast. LAUSD covers 710 square miles, an area 41 percent greater than the City of Los Angeles, and the district has 575,000 students, with about a 90 percent minority enrollment and about 120,000 English Language Learners. Within the Los Angeles metro area, more than 185 languages are spoken, and immigrants’ children are the most represented among LAUSD enrollees.

Unfortunately, and only partly of its own doing, LAUSD is barreling in the wrong direction academically. The COVID-19 school shutdown devastated LAUSD’s most vulnerable students. The latest state test scores revealed disappointing decreases in student performance. For poor, vulnerable students, the decline was more dramatic.

The 2022 assessment tests showed just 28 percent of LAUSD students met state standards in math, and only 42 percent met English standards in the 2021-22 school year, declines of two and five percentage points, respectively, from the 2018-19 school year. LAUSD superintendent Alberto Carvalho acknowledged that kids most at risk – blacks, Hispanics and females – lost the most ground. “Five years of gradual academic progress…. have been reversed,” said Carvalho.

Test scores won’t improve unless chronic absenteeism is reversed. Nearly half of all LAUSD students missed classroomtime post-pandemic, a two-fold increase from prior years. Carvalho found many students did not have either what he called “adequate care” from an adult at home, “were caring for young siblings” or working multiple low-paying jobs to support their families. LAUSD implemented strategies, such as targeting early absenteeism and going to students’ homes for follow up, but the programs’ specifics are vague, and the end results far from certain.

Carvalho has other plans with noble goals. Highest among them is his commitment to expanding a literacy intervention program called Primary Promise, originally limited to K-3 students, to students at higher grade levels. While parents applaud the more inclusive outreach, veteran educators know that if the basics aren’t mastered during a student’s earliest years, the climb to literacy will be long, hard and too often unsuccessful.

As challenging as the 2023-2024 academic year is, the worst is yet to come. COVID-19 funding goes away next year. Many of the 75,000 full- and part-time workers, including about 25,000 teachers, will have to change jobs or job locations, and unfilled classroom and staff positions will remain vacant, a true crisis for students already behind. If bus drivers are laid off, a strong possibility, then poor children without other transportation options will be unable to get to school.

The important question, however, is what long-term outcome awaits students whose fundamental reading and math skills are substandard? In an era that increasingly relies on automation and artificial intelligence, the undereducated young adults, whether their futures lay in California or elsewhere, will have a rocky road forward. The $18 billion is a high cost to taxpayers for failing Los Angeles’ children.

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Joe Guzzardi is a Project for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at