Attorney General Concludes That Legislature May Not Condition School Funding On Race/Ethnicity

CATEGORY: Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education
DATE: Jun 04, 2024

On April 25, 2024, California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued opinion number 23-902.  This opinion answers a question from State Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil about whether the Legislature could amend California’s school funding formula based on the relative grades of different racial/ethnic groups.

California uses a Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) to calculate funding for school districts, charter schools, and county offices of education.  School districts receive a “grade span adjusted base grant.”  This base grant is calculated as a fixed dollar amount per student, adjusted for average daily attendance.

Districts can then receive additional funding for students classified as “unduplicated pupils.”  The Education Code defines “unduplicated pupils” as students who are (1) English learners, (2) eligible for free or reduced-price meals, and/or (3) foster youth.  School districts receive a “supplemental grant” for each unduplicated pupil.  If more than 55 percent of a district’s student population are unduplicated pupils, the district also receives a “concentration grant” for each unduplicated pupil above that 55 percent threshold.  The supplemental and concentration grant funds must be used primarily to increase or improve services for the unduplicated pupils, compared to the services provided to all pupils.

Senator Alvarado-Gil asked whether the Legislature could amend the definition of “unduplicated pupils” to include all students in one of the ethnic subgroups defined in Education Code section 52052 that had the lowest average performance on the most recent statewide assessment exams.  The racial/ethnic subgroups in section 52052 are “Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Filipino, Hispanic or Latino, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, White, or two or more races.”  The opinion provides the example that in the 2022-2023 academic year, the ethnic subgroup with the lowest average statewide test scores was Black or African American students.  Under Senator Alvarado-Gil’s proposal, all Black students in California would therefore be classified as unduplicated pupils.  Senator Alvarado-Gil explained that the purpose of the proposal was to address the racial achievement gap.

Attorney General Bonta concluded that the Legislature may not amend the LCFF statute in that manner.  The proposed amendment would violate the federal Constitution by conditioning educational funding on student race/ethnicity.


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