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Editorial

Students as dollar signs

Cash-strapped L.A. Unified is requiring some pupils to return to district schools.

March 18, 2010

In January, Beverly Hills Unified School District voted to expel hundreds of students who attend its schools but live outside its boundaries because, under a change of funding formula, those students no longer would bring in extra money. Now Los Angeles Unified is forcing thousands of students who live within the district but attend schools elsewhere to return. Rich school or poor, it's not pretty to see students treated like walking dollar signs.

The L.A. Unified students need annual permission to enroll in such places as Torrance, Santa Monica and Calabasas, and now that the district's budget is sinking into a seemingly bottomless hole, each of those students represents a chance to recapture thousands of dollars in funding. Of the more than 12,000 students who have found academic slots elsewhere, the district intends to revoke permits for close to 10,000. Those exempted would include students entering fifth, eighth and 12th grade, who would be allowed to finish out their final year at their current schools. As a result, the district expects to bring in $51 million in per-pupil funding, which would make a small but significant dent in its $640-million deficit.

During financially dire times, school districts can and must look at every possible revenue source. And though we hate to see students forced to attend school in a district as troubled as L.A. Unified when schools in Malibu and Culver City have welcomed them, it's understandable for the district to call a temporary halt to new transfer permits. The money it would lose through those transfers affects all L.A. students. It's a different matter, though, to end permits for students who already have made the move and are happily ensconced in other schools -- that would be disruptive academically and socially.

The district's argument isn't helped by the chipper start of a memo by Supt. Ramon C. Cortines: "We have made great strides in improving the educational options for students who reside within the boundaries of our school district. In light of these improvements, I have asked staff to revise our current permit policy."

Desperation is desperation; let's call it by name. With the district pink-slipping its credentialed librarians and many more teachers, as well as increasing class sizes, no one should pretend that a return to L.A. Unified represents a good educational opportunity for the affected students. As Beverly Hills did, L.A. Unified made an implicit agreement with these families about their children's academic futures. They are students who found a better education elsewhere, not cash cows.

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