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San Diego Unified says it has the legal backing to use federal money for disadvantaged students to pay for counselors and graduation coaches at schools with poorer students. But so far, the school district hasn’t let the rest of us see the legal advice they’re relying on.

The school district paid an outside law firm $5,000 to evaluate whether the controversial idea, which we explored in a recent article, is legal.

Critics and a state official say it appears to be illegal because schools are supposed to provide equal services to all schools with their basic funding. The special federal money is supposed to pay for the extra needs of poor children, not pay for things the district would anyway.

The school district has argued that its decision is legal because it is using stimulus money, not its own ordinary funding, to pay for counselors and graduation coaches at other schools. They believe that the stimulus money does not fall under the same rules that the critics have cited.

But while the school district has said the move is legal, it hasn’t let us take a look at its legal advice. San Diego Unified attorney Mark Bresee said under California public records law, the school district doesn’t have to disclose its attorneys’ legal advice.

That’s true, but the school board could waive that privilege and give it to us anyway. I’m asking the school board to do just that. This is an important bit of legal advice because if the school district gets this wrong, schools might have to repay federal funding for disadvantaged students in the future.

I’m still waiting to hear back from the school board, but I’ll let you know whether they decide to let us in on their legal advice — and I’ll share anything that I get back.

— EMILY ALPERT

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