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High-need students, get in line

Large share of underfunded schools in Orange and San Diego counties

Significant numbers of “high need" students (who mostly come from low-income backgrounds) are learning English as a second language, are placed in the foster-care system, or are attending schools that may not be receiving the extra funding they need to provide services critical for those students' development, a new study finds. San Diego is among the regions in the state hit the hardest.

According to data released Thursday night (March 12) from the Public Policy Institute of California, the state has identified 677 high-need schools in 154 districts that do not receive the high-need designation and its attendant "concentration grants" from the state, with a disproportionate share of them in Orange and San Diego counties.

In order to qualify for funding, the overall district population must be comprised of 55 percent or more students with one of the qualifying circumstances. Money is typically earmarked for smaller class sizes and, in later grades, "career technical education" classes, and could amount to per-student budgeting differences of up to $2000 per pupil from district to district.

"The funding in the new formula is based on districtwide enrollment levels, and districts have flexibility in how they spend it," explains study co-author Laura Hill. "It will be important to ensure that the additional support reaches high-need students in districts where they are unevenly distributed."

The Mountain Empire Unified School District, which covers the eastern extremities of the county, has a 53.6 percent high-need population, placing it just below the threshold for receiving extra funding. But at Mountain Empire High School, over 77 percent of the 3549 students are identified as high-need.

North County's San Marcos Elementary makes a separate list of facilities with the highest number of students above the 55 percent threshold, with 899 qualified pupils versus a qualifying population of 507.

Overall, San Diego ranks as one of the ten highest counties in the state when it comes to variance between individual school needs and district averages, creating a series of funding challenges not seen in most regions.

The institute says more monitoring of the new state funding mechanisms will be needed in coming years to determine whether the concentrated funds going toward high-need schools and districts is producing positive outcomes by raising student performance in the targeted at-risk population.

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