CRLA Advocates to Ensure 

Low-Income, Rural Students Receive Quality Education

CRLA demands that California’s new approach to fund school districts take into account the needs of low-income, rural students, especially English Language Learners. 

San Francisco, CA —  California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA) is advocating for the rights of low-income, rural students at input sessions hosted by the State Board of Education (SBE) and the California Department of Education (CDE) to inform implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF).  The LCFF divides funding for schools into a base grant for all students that will be controlled by each individual school district office and provides supplemental and concentration grants for districts with English Language Learners and low-income students.  CRLA believes that the LCFF provides a unique opportunity for school districts and parents to work together to design an effective education plan that commits resources to, and addresses the needs of, English Language Learners, economically disadvantaged students, and foster youth.

However, CRLA has great concern about the lack of oversight provided by the state.  “LCFF dismantles an oversight and accountability system which – while not fully effective – provided a structure for ensuring that districts provided needed and legally mandated supplemental education services to English Language Learners, and to economically disadvantaged students, and foster youth,” stated Cynthia Rice, CRLA Director of Litigation, Advocacy & Training.

CRLA is a fierce defender of the most vulnerable students:  the rural poor, especially English Language Learners.  Their families often find navigating the school systems a challenge on its own, so it’s critical to ensure that low-income, rural parents and families of English Language Learners are aware of the shift in school funding.  CRLA is committed to holding the State Board of Education and the state of California accountable. 

“We need to make sure that districts have clear direction from State Board of Education requiring active participation by parents in the LCFF planning process as this will promote equal educational opportunity and help ensure access to services designed to serve the needs of English Language Learners,”  said Franchesca Gonzalez, CRLA Oxnard Staff Attorney.

In order to ensure that all students get the high-quality education they deserve, and that LCFF meets Governor Brown’s goal of providing more equitable resources to California’s struggling schools, CRLA has developed the following demands:


  • Ensure that school districts expend the 2013-2014 funds in a manner consistent with the LCFF and use supplemental and concentration grant funding to benefit English Language Learners, low-income students, and foster youth;
  • Define how supplemental and concentration grant funding may be used in future years to ensure that districts spend funds in a manner that augments education services to English Language Learners, low-income students, and foster youth proportional to the additional funds received;
  • Set minimum standards for programs for English Language Learners to ensure that supplemental and concentration grant funds are used to address educational deficits that result from the inability to speak English and ensure that students have the opportunity to learn English and have full access to the core curriculum;
  • Provide clear and specific steps that districts must follow to include parents in the local control accountability plan (LCAP) development process, focusing on engaging parents of English Language Learners and low-income students by having language translation at LCAP meetings,having materials in other languages, and eliminating other impediments to parent participation;
  • Require LCAP committees to include the current district English Language Learner advisory committees;
  • Require transparency and documentation of how the LCFF funds are spent and how programs benefit English Language Learners, low-income students, and foster youth; and
  • Set minimum standards for the oversight activities delegated to the County Offices of Education and for direct oversight by the California Department of Education of those programs actually administered by the County offices.


 “It’s our very real concern that cash-strapped districts under the cover of  ‘local control’ and 'flexibility’ might use the money designated for English Language Learners and low-income students for unauthorized programs or staff.  Schools have a pent-up need, and hiring back staff, ending furlough days, and negotiating increased pay and benefits are important, but we cannot have these needs met at the expense of the most vulnerable students,” said Cynthia Rice.  
CRLA is providing testimony at each LCFF public input sessions hosted by the State Board of Education.


CRLA Educates California lawmakers about important education issues – Cynthia Rice describes a moving and productive day in Sacramento at the State Capital.

Cynthia Rice

May 3, 2013: It was a great week for CRLA clients and their communities. California state legislators were presented with the on the ground perspective of life in rural California for students. As a result, legislators took steps toward improving education laws by passing SB 744 and AB 275 out of committee. CRLA staff, clients and advisory committee members were invited to Sacramento at the written request of state legislators. Our input was critical to this success.


SB 744

CRLA attorney Franchesca Gonzalez and client Jessie C. traveled to Sacramento to testify at Assembly Education Committee Hearing on SB 744, a bill providing Protections to Students Transferred to Community Schools. Click here to watch their testimony.

Jessie C., an 18 year old Imperial County student currently trying to obtain his GED through community college courses, testified before the Sen.  Education Committee on SB 744, May 3, 2013.  

 “ In community school, anything could hold you back, knock you down a track and prevent you from transferring, whether it is getting some water without permission, an untucked shirt, or you just have no more white collared shirts for the next day… In two weeks you could miss your chance to transition and would have to remain in community school another semester. Some students I know were sent to community school because of absences three years ago and are still attending County Community School in Brawley, CA.  A lot of students just decide to give up and settle for a GED.   ” – Jessie C.

Franchesca Gonzalez, CRLA staff attorney / education specialist, testified before the Sen.  Education Committee on SB 744, May 3, 2013

“We represent hundreds of students and parents in rural farm worker communities across the state each year.  Many of these students are facing disciplinary transfers to alternative education placements such as county community and community day schools – where they are often dumped and forgotten.  We have seen the harm that ensues to children when they are transferred to these placements in the absence of basic procedural safeguards – their educational needs are not met, they fall quickly behind their peers in regular schools, they lose their motivation for learning, and are more likely to drop out.” – Franchesca Gonzalez

CRLA Staff Attorney Patrick Saldana, CRLA Executive Director, Jose Padilla, client Jesse C and CRLA Staff Attorney Franchesca Gonzalez outside the Assembly Education Committee room waiting to testify.

CRLA Staff Attorney Patrick Saldana, CRLA Executive Director, Jose Padilla, client Jessie C. and CRLA Staff Attorney Franchesca Gonzalez outside the Assembly Education Committee room waiting to testify.

Testimony provided by Jessie and Franchesca was critical to SB 744 getting out of the first legislative committee, garnering bi-partisan support.  The bill’s author, Sen. Ricardo Lara, asked CRLA to provide information and assistance in drafting/passing legislation to address the problem of students being transferred to ineffective and substandard community schools.  Franchesca provided the Sen. Lara with real-life examples of students harmed by these transfers.  These students often spend years in community schools loosing hope on a high school diploma so they give up.   When Senator Lara’s staff asked Franchesca and Jessie to speak at this important hearing Jessie agreed, even though it meant traveling from El Centro on an airplane – a first-time experience for the young man.  CRLA staff attorney, Patrick Saldana immediately stepped up to help Jessie make travel arrangements and agreed to accompany him to Sacramento for the hearing. 

While waiting to be called to witness, CRLA staff toured the capital, meeting with Assemblyman Luis Alejo.   Assemblyman Alejo, a former CRLA attorney, shared his personal stories of school challenges with Jessie and told him to always remember this experience in Sacramento.  Assemblyman Alejo told the young man that the capitol building was his building, gesturing to the office and saying, “this is your office.”  

Franchesca Gonzalez, Jesse C. and Assemblyman Alejo, in Alejo’s Capitol office.

Franchesca Gonzalez, Jessie C. and Assemblyman Alejo, in Alejo’s Capitol office.

Jessie and Franchesca’s testimony stunned committee members.  His personal story left the audience in awe of his courage and perseverance.  Franchesca recounted examples of students who abandoned school because they were forced into a community school and saw no benefit in continuing their education at an institution where they were disrespected and had no chance of graduating.   Committee members who had not previously agreed to vote for the bill, voted YES.  The bill passed out of committee on a 7 to 1 vote. 


AB 275

After their hearing Franchesca, Jessie and CRLA Executive Director José Padilla hurried over to the Senate Education Committee hearing room to witness Assy. Alejo’s  AB 275’s hearing.  (AB 275 is a bill to improve accountability and parental involvement in California’s Migrant Education program.)  Assy. Alejo asked CRLA for assistance on that bill and Franchesca worked with Cynthia Rice, Director of Litigation and Training, to draft major changes to current migrant education law improving accountability, providing data regarding migrant student performance and clarifying the role of the statewide parent advisory council.  Franchesca, Jessie and José had to leave before the bill was heard, however, Cynthia testified about the importance of the Migrant Education program and the critical importance of parental involvement.  That bill also passed out of committee that day on a 7-0 vote.

CRLA Educates Lawmakers

CRLA has worked to address racial and ethnic disparities in discipline and the rampant abuses of the system resulting in improper assignment of students of color to alternative schools, which include community schools, continuation schools, and even independent study.  Work on behalf of individual clients by advocates like Franchesca, revealed children in rural school districts being warehoused in community schools without access to core curriculum and classes essential to graduation.  These assignments were usually after a student was “SARBed” – referring to the local Student Attendance Review Board – which purportedly helps students and families address attendance and truancy problems and keeps them in school.  Instead this system pulls students out of a regular school setting and places them in alternative schools.  Students like Jessie who try to correct their mistakes are faced with insurmountable obstacles and a feeling of desperate isolation.   CRLA, at the request of Sen. Lara, helped draft specific provisions in SB 744 guaranteeing access to core curriculum and highlight other procedural protections that will give students like Jessie a chance to get back on track and reenroll in their regular school with access to the full curriculum and a better shot at graduation and even college.   CRLA, as part  of a statewide discipline task force supported by The California Endowment, has been collaborating with non-profit agencies around the state to address disparate discipline issues, including the Youth Law Center, Public Counsel, Legal Services for Children, and the ACLU of Northern California who also worked on SB 744

Jessie ended the day telling his lawyers that he felt empowered and wouldn’t forget the experience.  His lawyers thanked him for his courage and willingness to use his struggles to help other students like him. 

These bills are not law yet, and there will be many other hurdles to overcome before they are enacted. But, it was a good day.

More about our Staff

Franchesca Gonzalez graduated from law school determined to address the injustice in the education system.  She came to CRLA in 2011 when she accepted a staff attorney position in El Centro and took on the challenge of developing a new position in CRLA as a part time staff attorney/part time education specialist.  That’s where she met Jessie.   Her work has inspired and helped other CRLA lawyers to identify abuses of the discipline and SARB systems in rural counties throughout California and brought CRLA new strength and expertise to address education issues in our communities.


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