Historic disinvestment in communities of color has led to under-resourced and underfunded schools, perpetuating inequities for Black and Brown students who live in low-income, high-need areas. To combat this crisis, we advocate to equitably distribute funding to ensure all our schools are resourced appropriately to give students the education they deserve. Partnering with the community, we engaged Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) leadership to develop a Student Equity Need Index to address these inequities.
What is the Student Equity Need Index (SENI)
The Student Equity Need Index (SENI) is a research-based equity index, implemented by LAUSD, which uses comprehensive academic- and community-based indicators to rank schools from highest to lowest according to student need. With these rankings, LAUSD can more accurately understand the needs of its schools to equitably distribute funds to effectively address the achievement gap.
The SENI Origin Story
While the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) took important steps to equitably distribute public school resources across the state, there were no systems or structures in place to further direct funds to where there is greatest need at the local level. Recognizing the need to ensure that LCFF funds were distributed to the schools serving the students who needed them the most, Catalyst California joined Community Coalition and InnerCity Struggle to form the Equity Alliance for LA’s Kids. Later joined by the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, the coalition fights for a more racially just and equitable educational system in Los Angeles.
The Equity Alliance created the Student Equity Need Index (SENI) in partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) as an evidence-based tool to aid in the redistribution of resources to highest-need schools.
The SENI offers an index that accounts for the effects systemic and environmental factors have on schools and students. These indicators were chosen and developed through engagement with community stakeholders, students, parents, and district leaders.
- Centering justice and equity, the SENI highlights issues that disproportionately impact Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities yet remain unaccounted for in traditional funding models, using indicators like:
- suspension rates
- dropout rates
- asthma rates
- neighborhood gun violence
- Incorporating these types of indicators furthers the LCFF vision of better supporting the high- and highest-need student groups, allowing districts to identify where funding should be directed to make the most significant and equitable impact in our schools.
With the adoption of SENI, LAUSD is directing hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to high-need schools and making important strides towards addressing racial disparities across the district.
Understanding the SENI
At its heart, the SENI is a tool that allows districts to capture factors that are local and relevant to its respective community in order to determine where communities face multiple factors that impact students' learning and well-being to help identify levels of need.
Taking a Deeper Look at Community: In LAUSD, the SENI consists of 15 indicators of student need, including community level indicators, such as asthma severity rates and exposure to gun violence, and school climate factors, such as rates of suspension and absenteeism. This provides a deeper look at the multiple and compounding factors that impact students. The SENI weighs these indicators to rank schools on a five-point scale: highest-, high-, moderate-, low-, and lowest-need. While SENI funds benefit all schools in the district, they are concentrated in the highest need schools (highest need schools receive 31% of SENI funds, compared with the 20% they would receive if district funding was evenly distributed).
Targeting Resources to Advance Equity: Given that the majority of LAUSD students qualify as low-income, foster youth, and English Learners (i.e., the “Targeted Student Populations” identified in the LCFF), the SENI indicators and rankings allow the district to differentiate need more efficiently across the district.
Additional per-pupil funding rates are allocated according to a school’s ranking on the SENI. The additional flexible funds a school receives through SENI allow school administration to make resource decisions based on the specific needs of their students within their community.
For example, school leaders have used SENI funds to hire full-time librarians, nurses, and school social workers and psychologists to address children’s holistic needs. The SENI has also been an equity-centered guide to inform broader district decisions; LAUSD used the SENI to identify areas to set up grab-and-go centers providing food to families during the COVID-19 pandemic. When students returned in-person during the pandemic, the SENI was also used to determine staffing priorities in response to COVID recovery needs as well as overall staffing challenges in the wake of the teacher shortage.
SENI Indicators and Levels of Need: The indicators that make up SENI are weighted to determine rankings for each school in the breakdown shown here:
Informed by the lived experiences of students and families uplifted, the Equity Alliance proposed indicators to incorporate into the SENI formula in collaboration with the district and community stakeholders. To identify these indicators, Catalyst California conducted research on the critical factors students face, which included a cross section of school and community data to inform the recommendation of the Equity Alliance and community.
Based on the lived experiences of families, it was important for the Equity Alliance and community stakeholders that the SENI include a combination of indicators that reflect both student performance/outcomes as well as the community context that students face. Therefore, the SENI includes two specific community-level factors that are unique to Los Angeles and the experience of learning in the Los Angeles context: exposure to gun violence and asthma severity rate. This shift to include neighborhood factors into a school funding formula was a victory for students, families, and community partners, as it formally acknowledged the local barriers students face outside of school that impact their educational experience.
For more detailed information on the methodology used to determine the indicators, see the “Data & Methodology” section.
Why SENI Matters
How SENI Has Deepened Racial Equity in LAUSD
Beyond its function as a funding formula, the SENI has been used as a tool to understand where to prioritize resources within LAUSD. For example, the district has used the SENI to identify where to focus efforts to build community schools, giving the community the opportunity to build racially just, relationship-centered Community Schools and helping transform our local schools into equitable institutions.
SENI has also been used as a metric for measuring need by community organizations such as the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which found that school site SENI designations as high-need or low-need correlate with other educational gaps, like teacher vacancies. This means that implementing a SENI can help school districts better understand where to target resources beyond funding, as LAUSD did with grab-and-go centers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schools within LAUSD have used SENI funds to increase student support by hiring psychiatric social workers, intervention coordinators, and attendance counselors. They have also used the funds to purchase additional instructional support, including planning time for teachers, library and office aides, and English Language coordinators. Additionally, schools have used SENI funds to foster relationships with the community through hiring Community Representatives to promote school spirit and communicate about school-wide events, collaborate with community organizations to hold workshops to support families, and connect families with resources.
An independent American Institute of Research (AIR) study shows a positive correlation between how LAUSD distributed resources and highest-need schools within the district. The study also demonstrated that SENI dollars have been spent on critical school-site positions and that school sites have the flexibility to spend funds to fulfill specific school and community needs.
Data & Methodology
The SENI adopted by LAUSD uses data from various sources to estimate the factors that drive disparities in education. The indicators are factors that research shows impact a student’s education. Overall, the SENI includes seventeen indicators split across four components to help measure school sites’ current levels of need. The components and indicators are:
- Academic Indicators: Incoming 6th/9th Grade Math State Test; Incoming 6th/9th Grade ELA State Test; 1st Grade Primary Literacy Test; A-G Completion Rate (HS only)
- School Climate Indicators: Chronic Absenteeism; Suspension Rates; I-Star Reports
- School Demographics: Percent Foster Youth; Percent Homeless Youth; Percent English Learners; Percent Standard English Learners; Percent Low-Income Students with Disabilities; Percent Unduplicated Students
- Community Indicators: Asthma Severity Rate in School Neighborhood; Non-Fatal Gunshot Injuries in School Neighborhood; COVID Infection Rate; COVID Death Rate
The SENI includes an overall SENI rank and percentile for each school in the district based on weighted indicator scores. Percentiles range from 0 to 100, with 100 indicating the greatest need for additional equity funding. Ranks range from 1 to 508 (the number of eligible schools considered), with 1 indicating the school with the highest need. Schools are divided based on their percentile scores into five different groups: highest-, high-, moderate-, low-, and lowest-need.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, LAUSD added “COVID-19 Impact” data to the SENI formula, aiming to fully capture the disproportionate impact of the pandemic into its funding allocation through two COVID-19 indicators: average infection rates and average death rates. When these indicators were added to the SENI formula, it changed the weight of each indicator to account for 85% of a school’s SENI ranking, with the remaining 15% accounted for by the two COVID indicators (COVID incidence and death rates) and post-COVID Chronic Absenteeism, thought to be directly reflective of COVID-related hardships.