Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Public Moneys for Public Schools

My organization, the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) was started by Dr. Jose A. Cardenas precisely, and that time, solely, because of the unjust and inequitable funding of public schools in Texas. From 1973 to the present it's been a mixed metaphor road: bumpy, roller-coaster, one-step-forward-two-back, uphill climb. Currently, in Texas, we are sliding back on the path -- moving toward inequitable funding of our public schools -- schools where the majority of the poor, African American and Latino students are -- have less relative and absolute resources than those where the wealthiest attend. Given the total economic wealth of Texas, we are penny-pinchers with our public schools. The efforts of 10% of the schools (the wealthiest) were able to label (stigmatize) our (IDRA's and allies) laudable efforts as a 'robin hood plan'. In effect they acknowledged that our premise for funding schools through property wealth is a few rich/many poor dichotomy that should stay in place. One statement I'll never forget, and this from a friend whose children attended a property-wealth school district, "Why put good money into 'those''s putting good money on bad. It's a bottomless pit!"
In a recent conversation with a semi-retired Texas PTA and past National leader I brought up the possibility of the PTA being a vehicle for causing the people of Texas to have the public will to fund the schools that all of our children need and deserve. She responded: Hardly likely because it brings up the specter of state income tax!
The majority of voters in Texas have bought into the "tax relief" scam which says, 'be selfish because the common good doesn't affect you'. Yet the great demographer, and current head of our national census bureau, Steve Murdock, has been reminding policy-makers and the business community (for many years): if we don't invest in our children and our schools, we won't have much of an economy to speak of in the next generation.

IDRA addresses many more issues beyond school funding in its mission to create schools that work for all children. We nevertheless continue to keep the state conscious of its responsibility to provide the resources to all public schools so that all of our children have access to the best that public education can offer.

A friend and great columnist in San Antonio wrote a great piece some years ago that still applies. I'm dropping it in here, with full credit given to Carlos Guerra, who has been battling for justice and equality for a long time. We are both advancing in age. I can't get the link to work, probably because of the time gone by and my tech limitations.
A kid in college surfaces real issues around school vouchers
My only child was born in 1986, on my best Valentine's Day ever. On Wednesday, Alexa flew to New York to attend Columbia, the only university to which she applied.
Over 18 wondrous years, the quiet, studious child blossomed into a lovely young woman, self-disciplined and addicted to learning. She struggled at times but wouldn't quit, and she won my undying admiration by doggedly acing the hard sciences and advanced math she doesn't enjoy.
Genetics? I wish! In fact, when she was named a merit scholar, we joked that considering my grades, genetic testing might be in order.
I credit many factors to her success. She got a lot of mental stimulation early on, and we read regularly to her even before she could speak. And after her mother and I broke up, we both continued to pay close attention to her schooling and helped her over the rough spots.
As an infant, Alexa went to carefully chosen child-care environments. Later, she attended three private schools of differing educational philosophies, each chosen to assure that she would get individualized attention from caring, competent teachers, and rigorously challenging academics.
Her last five years were at Keystone School, well known for its demanding academic offerings that are rounded out with good programs in the arts and athletics.
Learning that my daughter studied at private schools, some readers have asked if I believe that all children should have such opportunities. I always answer with a resounding yes, but I do not support school vouchers.
Alexa did not excel simply by attending private schools. It took a lot of sacrifice, but what she benefited from was our ability to pay the high tuition costs of her exceptional schooling, which in high school was almost twice the sum spent on the average Texas public school student. The high tuition paid for classes small enough to give caring teachers the time to take special interest in each child; tiny staffs of administrators more focused on their products — well-educated kids — than their power; good physical facilities, and the teaching materials indispensable to providing real education.
Over 15 years, the only standardized tests Alexa took were diagnostic exams that compared her progress with that of students nationally, some exams required for admission to her high school and, of course, her college entrance exams.
Yes, all kids should get such opportunities, but let's not forget that caring, attentive parents can't be guaranteed, especially when they must juggle several low-wage jobs just to put food on the table.
Let's also remember that most private schools turn away kids with special needs, learning disabilities and discipline problems.
Finally, let's understand that the most generous voucher proposals would pay less than $4,000 annually per child.
Believe me, I would have loved such help. But Alexa's education still would have cost $8,000 more per year, and I have only one child.
Vouchers may sound great, but I worry that for each child that goes to private schools they will take $4,000 away from public schools, which then could become warehouses full of the costliest kids to educate.
I also fear that all those $4,000 checks will spawn "voucher mills," not unlike Texas' failed charter schools that were operated by scammers more interested in pocketing taxpayers' dollars than in educating kids for the 21st century.
Let's do what is right for schools. Cadillac schooling can't be had by making Yugo payments.
Carlos Guerra: A kid in college surfaces real issues around school vouchers

Web Posted: 08/29/2004 12:00 AM CDT San Antonio Express-News
Thank you Carlos.

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