State Criticizes Fresno Unified School District’s Use of Poor Student Funds

The district will adjust the language in its 2017-2018 funding plan.

The Fresno Unified School District was ordered to justify its allocation of state funds for at-risk students after the California Department of Education determined plans to spend that money were flawed.

Before adopting next year’s funding proposal, district officials will have to adjust their plan or explain how the use of certain state funds will benefit poor, minority students.

At issue is more than $36 million in funding that must go toward services “principally directed” to the most at-risk students in the state.

Some of the money has already been spent while some has simply been designated for specific plans.

In a lawsuit filed last year, the American Civil Liberties Union claimed Fresno Unified was using $5.6 million of that funding for bathroom renovations and custodians; $5.6 million to redesign a middle school; $3.8 million for school employee support; and $440,000 to hire more school resource officers and expand the Shotspotter gunshot detection system in the district, according to the Fresno Bee.

“Fresno Unified was using funding that was actually generated by high-need students for a lot of different allocations, including for police and security enhancements; exactly the type of thing that hurts students of color and high-need students,” ACLU attorney Abre’ Connor said.

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The California Department of Education recently agreed with the ACLU’s claim that Fresno Unified failed to sufficiently justify its funding decisions.

Fresno Unified defended its use of the funds, arguing that because such a high percentage of its students are considered at-risk, the money should be used for general, district-wide services.

District officials also noted that safety is a top concern in the community and the violent crime rate is higher than average in Fresno.

Fresno Unified School District Chief Financial Officer Ruthie Quinn confirmed the district will make adjustments to the 2017-2018 funding plan.

State funding is determined by the number of at-risk students a district enrolls. Roughly 88 percent of Fresno Unified’s student population qualifies as at-risk.

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