Analysis of the 2007-08 Budget Bill: Education

Soledad Enrichment Action Charter School

We recommend the Legislature extend the sunset date for the Soledad Enrichment Action charter school for two years.

The Soledad Enrichment Action School (SEA) operates as a charter school under the oversight of the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE). Chapter 58, Statutes of 1997 (SB 1318, Polanco), allowed the school to receive the higher per-pupil funding levels that are available to districts through the community day school program. Soledad is the only charter school that also operates as a community day school.

Chapter 467, Statutes of 2002 (SB 1416, Polanco), extended the statutory authorization allowing Soledad to operate as a community day school until July 1, 2008. The chapter also requires the Legislative Analyst’s Office to evaluate Soledad’s educational program and make a recommendation to the Legislature in its Analysis of the 2007-08 Budget Bill about whether to extend the authorization. To fulfill this requirement, we examined SEA’s performance data and recommend extending the school’s authorization for two more years.

Community Day Schools

Current law authorizes school districts and county offices of education (COE) to operate community day schools as an alternative to a student’s regular school. The Legislature established these schools in the mid-1990s to give districts resources to educate students who are expelled from school or who are involved with local law enforcement agencies.

Community day schools usually operate as short-term placements for students. Typically, students attend a community day school for one or two semesters before returning to their regular high school. Because students at community day schools often have fallen behind academically, curricula at many schools are designed to help students earn credits at an accelerated rate.

Community day schools operated by COE received $12,380 per average daily attendance (ADA) in 2005-06, roughly twice the amount provided to districts for regular students. This funding comes from two sources. First, they receive the county office base revenue limit for juvenile court programs (in the case of Soledad—$8,624 per ADA). In addition, the community day school program provides county office programs another $3,245 per ADA as an incentive to encourage programs to offer a six-hour instructional day. County office community day schools get about $1,623 per ADA for attendance in each of the fifth and sixth hours of instruction each day (programs receive no additional funding if students leave school at the end of four hours).

Community day schools are also eligible for two hours of “after school” funds. After school programs provide tutoring and recreational activities to students. Community day schools were eligible to receive $4.74 per student hour of attendance in after school classes in 2005-06—if the after school program constituted the seventh and eight hour of attendance for students.

Soledad Operates Large Program

Soledad serves more than 2,600 students each year at 18 sites that are located across the Los Angeles basin. Most of these sites are located in neighborhoods served by the Los Angeles Unified School District, but Soledad also has school sites located in Compton, Montebello, and Long Beach. In total, Soledad serves students from about 30 school districts in the county.

Compared to community day schools operated by most school districts, Soledad is quite large—the school’s enrollment accounts for 8.5 percent of the state’s total enrollment in community day schools in 2005-06. The LACOE, which oversees Soledad, also operates several other large community day schools. The combined enrollment of SEA and LACOE community day schools accounted for 28 percent of the state’s total enrollment in community day schools in 2005-06.

The school offers classes on a year-round basis, with three 80-day semesters (rather than two 90-day semesters that are common in most schools). Soledad is open nine hours each day—the school day accounts for seven hours (six hours of instruction plus lunch and other breaks). The school also offers two hours of after school services.

Students are assessed upon entry and at the end of each semester. Each class rotates students through direct teacher instruction, individual or small group assignments, and computer-aided practice. In addition, the school coordinates services and counseling to students and parents from a variety of social, health, and law enforcement agencies. Soledad also provides classes to parents as a way of engaging them to support the education of their children.

Turnover in Students Typical of Community Day Schools. Soledad provides short-term assistance to students in grades 9 through 12. According to Soledad officials, students typically attend the school for one or two semesters and then return to their regular school. As a result, Soledad enrolls many more students throughout the year than it has enrolled at any one time.

Figure 1 displays enrollment and attendance for Soledad and the community day schools administered by LACOE. As the figure shows, total enrollment far exceeds total attendance. Soledad enrolled 2,695 students during 2004-05 but claimed ADA funding for only 1,163 students. The significant difference between enrollment and attendance is typical of community day schools and occurs primarily because most community day schools operate as a short-term placement for students. Soledad’s 2004-05 enrollment data show, for example, that about 27 percent of students were enrolled for 90 days or longer; only 13 percent stayed enrolled for most of the regular school year (October to May). The enrollment trends for LACOE community day schools were similar.


Figure 1

Soledad Enrichment Action
Charter School Enrollment and Attendance Data




Los Angeles County Officea




Percent at least 90 days



Percent enrolled October-May



Average daily attendance




a    Six community day schools administered by the county office.


In 2005-06, Soledad was eligible for total funding of $18 million. Of this amount, $17.5 million was for SEA’s base educational program, including funding for the fifth and sixth hour of classes. An additional $415,000 was earned in after school funds. Because of a deficit in the statewide funding for community day schools, the school received only $17.7 million for the fiscal year.

State Accountability System Does Not Permit Evaluation of SEA

The state has several school accountability programs to help policymakers and the public understand how well schools are helping students learn. The primary state and federal accountability measures do not work well for community day schools, however, because of the rapid turnover of students during the school year. The state Academic Performance Index (API) and federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) are based on the assumption that student mobility is relatively low. That is, both measures exclude the scores of students who move from one school to another or from one district to another during the school year. In addition, by emphasizing growth in student scores, API assumes a relatively constant student population at the school from year to year.

Since the majority of students in community day schools change schools during the year, the API and AYP scores of a community day school are based on the test scores of a small fraction of the students served by the school. For SEA, for instance, only about 13 percent of students who attended the school in 2005-06 were counted in its 2005 API and AYP scores. It is not known whether these students are representative of all the students who enrolled in the school in 2005-06. In addition, because virtually none of the students counted in SEA’s 2005 API were also included in the school’s 2004 API, growth in this measure does not represent a meaningful indicator of SEA’s effectiveness in promoting student learning.

Alternative Accountability System Is Ineffective

Recognizing that alternative schools such as community day schools require a different type of accountability measure, the Legislature required the California Department of Education (CDE) to develop accountability measures for alternative schools. In response, CDE created the Alternative Schools Accountability Model (ASAM).

Chapter 467 requires our office to evaluate Soledad’s performance based on its ASAM performance outcomes. Unfortunately, ASAM suffers from a number of problems that render it ineffective as an accountability tool. We discuss these problems in greater detail in our February 2007 report, Improving Alternative Education in California. Later, we briefly review several of these shortcomings using the measures for Soledad and the other LACOE community day schools as an example.

Choice of Performance Measures Prohibit Comparisons. The ASAM requires alternative schools to choose three performance measures from among 14 indicators. By allowing each school to define its own accountability measures, ASAM fails to define performance expectations in a way that permits comparison. Soledad and LACOE schools, for instance, chose two common measures—the percent of students attending each day and the proportion of credits earned by students. As its third measure, SEA chose the percentage of students who were suspended or expelled each year. The LACOE schools opted for the graduation rate as its third measure. Statewide, about two-thirds of community day schools choose attendance as a performance indicator and 45 percent choose credit completion. By allowing schools to choose their performance measures, ASAM fails to establish a common performance standard for community day schools, which is a necessary element of any accountability system.

Performance Data Covers a Fraction of Total Students. The ASAM collects performance data only on students that stay enrolled at an alternative school for at least 90 days. This means the schools are not held accountable for the majority of students served each year. For Soledad, only about one-quarter of students meet the 90-day requirement for inclusion into ASAM; for LACOE schools, performance data is reported for about one-third of its students. Thus, ASAM provides data only on a small proportion of students at the school.

Most Indicators Do Not Measure Educational Performance. Most of the 14 indicators in ASAM are not direct measures of student academic progress. Among the nonacademic measures are the rates of suspension or expulsion, attendance, promotion to the next grade, and course completion. As a result, depending on the indicators chosen, ASAM may provide no information on the educational performance of students at a school.

In addition, the five measures linked to student achievement have problems that undercut their usefulness. For Soledad and LACOE, for example, the credit completion rate could be a measure of student academic progress. The significance of this measure, however, is clouded by the fact that credit-granting policies are locally determined—a school with high standards would tend to show lower completion rates than a school with lower standards, for instance. Without uniform standards on credit granting policies, therefore, even this measure does not provide meaningful data.

Provide Extension for Soledad

Due to ASAM’s shortcomings, we are unable to fulfill the specific evaluation requirements contained in Chapter 467. Despite this barrier, we provide the Legislature with our assessment of Soledad’s program based on our site visits to Soledad and other alternative education programs around the state, and on other available information.

In short, we conclude that Soledad’s education program appears at least comparable to other similar schools and, in some areas, the school offers attractive features that many other alternative schools do not. While this may seem like faint praise, we are wary of stating our conclusion more definitively than the data permit. This conclusion is based on the following:

Soledad Provides Enriched Program. In other areas, elements of the school’s program are impressive. The school, for instance, is much more successful than other alternative programs we visited in obtaining on-site services from local social and health services agencies, local law enforcement agencies, and probation. The school’s parent counseling classes also seems like a valuable component that is lacking in most alternative programs. Finally, Soledad operates the most significant after school program of all the community day schools in the state, accounting for more than one-third of all statewide claims for the seventh and eighth hour funding. The school stands out from other alternative programs we visited in its success in providing these support services. We have no way to determine, however, the extent these services make the educational program more effective.

LAO Recommendation. Based on this assessment, we recommend the Legislature extend by two years Soledad’s ability to receive the higher community day school funding levels. We recommend a two-year extension because, in the longer run, we suggest a different approach to funding alternative education, which we describe in more detail later.

Make Major Changes in Alternative Programs

In our Improving Alternative Education report, we recommend the Legislature undertake a comprehensive revision of the state funding system for alternative programs to eliminate negative incentives in the existing programs and reinforce each district’s responsibility for creating effective options for students.

The thrust of our recommendations is to increase accountability for students who are referred to alternative school. We recommend two specific changes. First, we recommend fixing the API and AYP measures so that students referred to alternative programs continue to be included in the accountability scores of the students’ “home” school. This will eliminate a current incentive for schools to send “problem” students to alternative schools rather than taking steps to assist the students. With this change, the Legislature would strengthen the focus of comprehensive high schools on the needs of students who are at risk of dropping out.

Second, we also recommend the Legislature revamp ASAM. Like our regular accountability programs, we think the alternative system should be based on comparable measures of what students actually learn while they attend alternative programs.

Revise Funding for Alternative Programs. Our recommendations also would recast the funding for alternative programs to reinforce the district’s responsibility for creating effective options for students. Specifically, our proposal would provide alternative school funding only to districts (rather than county offices or charter schools), thereby making the district determine how best to provide the educational services needed by students who are struggling with academic or behavioral problems. In a sense, directly funding Soledad as a community day school lets the neighboring districts “off the hook” for providing an appropriate alternative setting for these students. Our recommendations are designed to put districts back “on the hook” for serving these students well.

Our recommendation also would encourage Soledad to work closely with its “feeder” high schools and districts to ensure that Soledad adequately meets the needs of students referred to the school. Soledad may not be the “right” school for certain students. Directly funding SEA as a community day school creates no incentive for either the school or the neighboring districts to consider whether the additional funding might be used more effectively if certain types of students attended a different alternative school.


In summary, we recommend extending Soledad’s authority to operate as a community day school for two additional years. Unfortunately, state data yield little insight into the effectiveness of Soledad and similar alternative programs, but what we do know about the school is generally positive. Over the longer term, however, we think Soledad and other county alternative programs should be integrated into a district-centered system. Because of the focus on districts, legislative adoption of our comprehensive proposal would end the special funding authorization for Soledad in the future. Because the school offers services most districts would find difficult to replicate, we believe, however, that SEA would thrive in the new fiscal environment. By extending the school’s authorization to operate as a community day school for two years, the Legislature would give the school time to work with its neighboring districts to establish these fiscal and program relationships within a new funding process.

Return to Education Table of Contents, 2007-08 Budget Analysis