California Schools Accused of Failing to Account for Millions of Dollars

A California school district has failed to account for millions of dollars in state funds that were earmarked for students with high needs, according to a newly filed complaint.

Antelope Valley Union High School District failed to comply with legal requirements about school spending plans, known as Local Control Accountability Plans, according to the complaint.

It said more than $6.9 million intended for low-income students, English learners and foster youth—most of them Black or Latinx—was left unused or used for improper purposes in the 2019/2020 school year alone, according to the complaint.

And it demands the district investigate budget discrepancies, comply with state-mandated reporting requirements and require each school to demonstrate how the funds were used to serve the students for whom they were allocated.

It comes as campaigners question how the district's $1.7 million deal with local law enforcement benefits students.

The complaint was filed on Wednesday by the Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA) on behalf of Diana Padilla, the parent of a student, and Equal Justice Society on behalf of Cancel the Contract Antelope Valley, a coalition of groups calling on the school district to cancel its contract with Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

"There is no explanation for this multi-million-dollar shortfall or any statement indicating how these [supplemental and concentration grant] funds were ultimately allocated or will be allocated for foster youth, English learners, and/or low-income students," the complaint said.

"It is not possible to tell from AVUHSD's descriptions where the money allocated to these students has been re-directed or used on their behalf."

The complaint also said it was "alarming" that the district spent less than 65 percent of the total funds budged for improving school culture in the 2019/2020 school year.

"Parents are supposed to be in the process," Padilla told Newsweek. "That is not happening with the school district. Schools can use the funding to support parent resource centers which can overall help the schools provide true safety and care when students see parents' involvement on campuses."

The school district has been contacted for comment.

Cancel the Contract Antelope Valley
A complaint filed on behalf of students and Cancel the Contact Antelope Valley accused the Antelope Valley Union High School District of failing to account for millions of dollars in state funds earmarked for students with high needs. Cancel the Contract Antelope Valley

Chelsea Helena, an attorney with NLSLA, said: "This is money the state provides to ensure vulnerable students have what they need to succeed. But the AV Union High School District is taking the money and then allowing those students to languish."

Alexandra Santa Ana, an attorney with Equal Justice Society, said a lack of oversight has allowed districts across California to use state funds in ways that do not benefit the students they are supposed to help.

"There are more than one thousand districts in California, and they receive this funding based on the number of high-needs students in their care," she said.

"But a systemic lack of transparency has allowed them to essentially hide what they are doing with these critical funds and deprive high needs students of the resources that were promised to them."

The complaint called the district's allocation of $1.7 million of the funds to pay for a contract with the sheriff's department "particularly problematic and improper," saying the district has made no effort to detail how the increased enforcement serves the students.

"This is funding that was supposed to undo some of the historic harms that have for decades left these students at a severe disadvantage, specifically for our foster youth, English learners, and low- income students - this is unacceptable," said Cancel the Contract campaign co-ordinator Christian Green.

He added that the district "needs to reinvest in care and not incarceration. The time for change is now."

Students, parents and supporters are set to speak at a rally outside Antelope Valley High School on Wednesday afternoon.

Cancel the Contract protest
A campaign is calling on schools in California's Antelope Valley to cancel their contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Cancel The Contract Antelope Valley

Correction at 2/9/22, 2:50 a.m. ET: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Chelsea Helena's name.