SMMUSD HDQTRS — It’s a program that gives both socio-economically disadvantaged and academically struggling students a reason to believe in their future, getting a taste of the college life as a high school student.

While there’s unanimous support on the Board of Education for the two-year-old Young Collegians program, there’s disagreement over how it should be funded.

The issue came up at a school board meeting on Thursday during a discussion on how to spend roughly $95,000 from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Equity Fund, which was established to better improve the academic success of all students and help close the achievement gap.

It’s endowed through monetary gifts donated to each of the schools, about 15 percent of which is contributed to the Equity Fund and then distributed for district-wide initiatives and back to campuses based on a weighted formula for need.

As a result, several schools receive far less money than they originally put in, including Webster Elementary School, which contributed $20,000 last year but saw $2,900 come back. Others like John Adams Middle School got a higher allocation, contributing about $7,000 last year but getting more than $39,000. The school has one of the highest minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged student populations in the district.

A request from staff to allocate $95,000 for several district-wide programs — Intensive Intervention Summer School; Middle School Initiative; and Connect for Success/Young Collegians — was presented to the school board during a meeting earlier this month in Malibu but failed to pass as both Chair Ralph Mechur and board member Kelly Pye expressed concerns about the Equity Fund being used to pay for the Young Collegians, which is held at Santa Monica College and draws students from nearby Santa Monica High School.

Both Jose Escarce and Maria Leon-Vazquez were absent from the meeting, leaving a 3-2 vote and one short of the four majority that’s required.

The two board members were present at Thursday’s meeting and voted in favor of financially supporting the programs through the Equity Fund, though Escarce was initially against the idea believing that the Young Collegians, while meritorious, is not a district-wide program.

Leon-Vazquez said the programs are part of why the district committed to investing in children with the greatest need.

“I think we have to remind ourselves of why the Equity Fund was set up and why we made the investment,” she said.

Young Collegians is technically open to all students who would be the first in their family to attend college and have below a 2.0 grade point average. Most of the students in the program are from Samohi.

In addition to approving the allocations, the board directed staff to make a good faith effort to encourage any eligible students from Olympic High School and Malibu High School to participate and provide transportation.

“The Young Collegians program … is exactly the kind of program we need to be encouraging in our district,” board member Ben Allen said.

Mechur refuted claims that he is not in support of the program, saying that he believes every board member is 100 percent behind the Young Collegians.

The issue is the source of financial support, which he suggested should be the general fund.

“If there is a need in Malibu that’s similar, then there should be a program developed at Malibu for those students and we should support that program,” Mechur said.

Both members who voted against the staff’s recommendation said they believe paying for the Young Collegian’s program through the Equity Fund would go against the spirit of the endowment.

“The fund was set up for specific initiatives and those are not fulfilled to me this way,” Pye said.

Board member Oscar de la Torre, called out his colleagues who voted against the allocation, insinuating that they have a fear of backlash from the “affluent schools.”

He said the Young Collegians program is needed in the district where Latino and African-American students score considerably lower on state tests than their Asian and Caucasian peers.

“The whole premise of creating the Equity Fund was because there’s more need at certain school sites so we want to concentrate those services where the need is greatest,” he said. “I think using the funds in this way is exactly what we intended.”