“Paying for Public Education” and “Fighting for Equality.”

Rosa GomezGuest post from LSAISD Class of 2014 participant Rosa Gomez with her thoughts on the December class day on Leaders persist and persevere. Rosa lives in the San Antonio Independent School District 6.

Persistence and perseverance wasn’t only the class theme in December but also eloquently described the life’s work of our guest speakers. From our class learning about school finance and equality in schools to an energetic conversation about our own path of persistence, we certainly experienced LSAISD’s vision of informing and transforming one conversation at a time.

The first conversation centered on the title “Everything you need to know about school finance.” Not the easiest subject to tackle but definitely an important one. I’m sure Chandra Villanueva, Policy Analyst for the Center of Public Policy Priorities (CPPP), has given this presentation many times and knows it like the back of her hand. At least her well-delivered and informative speech reflected that. All the numbers, percentages and charts lead to one thing – how are funds for education helping our students succeed?

First, Ms. Villanueva helped us put a face on those numbers so we understand “who” we are helping through school funding. According to the CPPP, that student face is changing. The organization says that Texas is now a Hispanic majority state with students struggling with language barriers and 60% of students of all races living as economically disadvantaged. So what does that mean when it comes to school finance? Ms. Villanueva says it means connecting the dots between where the money comes from (top resources being local taxes, state funds, and federal funds), where it goes (top educational expenses being payroll, additional operating costs, and capital) and how it helps the students who need our help.

Next step is connecting the money to the students. We now know the growing population of Texas students is economically disadvantaged and English Language Learners (ELL). So, where’s the money for those kids? According to the CPPP, 6% of school funding support efforts for the economically disadvantaged and 3% supports resources for English Language Learners (ELL) or bilingual efforts. To some that may not add up as an investment in our students’ education. In this case, that “some” includes the Texas District Court. In 2011, state lawmakers cut roughly $5.4 billion from state public education funding, which included eliminating services to support economically disadvantaged students, according to CPPP. Those cuts caused for more than 600 Texas school districts to file a lawsuit challenging the state’s school finance system. In the end, District Court Judge Dietz of Austin ruled in their favor. Judge Dietz said that the state’s school finance system was unconstitutional due to inadequate funding. “Education costs money but ignorance costs more money,” said Judge Dietz. The lawsuit now continues to the Texas Supreme Court.

So who is “the voice” for these students? Who turns these statistics into the real life stories of day to day challenges? Plus, where are those stories heard? For our second presenter, the answer is easy. Marisa Bono, staff attorney at the Mexican American League of Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), says her organization provides “the voice” and they do it in the courtroom. That’s the passion of this national non-profit civil rights organization that works to protect the rights of Latinos in the United States, which includes the right to equal education.

Ms. Bono’s presentation is where we heard even more about the issues tied to economically disadvantaged students and English Language Learners, specifically when she spoke about MALDEF’s first landmark school finance case, Edgewood ISD v. Kirby, in 1989. In this case, MALDEF filed suit against Commissioner of Education, William Kirby, on May 23, 1984 in Travis County on behalf of the Edgewood Independent School District in San Antonio. The suit cited discrimination against students in poor districts. The plaintiffs charged that the state’s methods of funding public schools violated at least four principles of the state constitution, which obligated the state legislature to provide an efficient and free public school system. Ms. Bono said many of the issues in the case were tied to lack of funds to support resources for economically disadvantaged student and English Language Learners. After rounds of petitions, the Texas Supreme court voted unanimously 9-0 that sided with the Edgewood plaintiffs and ordered the state legislature to implement an equitable system by the 1990-91 school year. Ms. Bono summed -up the case with this quote from the Texas Supreme Court: “A band-aid will not suffice. The system itself must change.

Now, how does that system change? Both Ms. Villanueva and Ms. Bono said one way is focusing on the following resources their research has found that supports economically disadvantaged students and English Language Learners:

  1. Qualified and certified teachers
  2. Technology and materials
  3. Compensatory programs (economically disadvantaged)
  4. Extended learning time
  5. Small class sizes
  6. Quality, full-day pre-k

Now that we have this list, the question is how do we find the money to support these resources? An even bigger question is, in the end how do we pay for adequate public education for all Texas students? Maybe the answer circles back to the theme of this blog: Persistence and Perseverance. With those two actions, we all can make a difference in our schools and our students’ lives. Just like the leaders that came before us.