This is a Problem

AISD logo on a blue background: red apple with stem and green leaf. In the center of the apple is the dome of the state capital building. Below the image it reads, "AISD."

From The Austin Chronicle, “Report Highlights Inequities in AISD Funding”:

The report, titled “Austin Independent School District: Inequitable Funding and Vestiges of Segregation,” argues there is an underlying myth warping how cash is raised and allocated across the district. Parents in high-achieving schools claim they are the victim of underfunding, that low-achieving schools get a boost from federal¬†Title I¬†funds. They feel they need extra money to catch up, and so campuses raise extra private cash through special events, donations, and vending machine revenue. But TCRP says they’re missing the point, and with those extra private funds, the high-equity schools end up even further ahead of their struggling peers. The authors wrote, “This broken system has partially emerged from an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mindset and a lost sense of community.”

It’s a simple distinction: Title I cash pays for specific programs designed to help struggling kids; it’s supposed to get struggling schools to the bare minimum. The private cash raised by campuses tends to go toward day trips, libraries, athletics, and booster programs for high achievers, further enriching the education of kids who are already doing well. However, Harrington said he hears the narrative repeated across the district, by parents and principals: that Title I schools have an unfair cash advantage. He said, “It fits into what people want to do, and gives them a moral justification for what’s happening.”

The myth of Title I “gives them a moral justification for what’s happening.”

Those are incredibly damning words. You tell yourself that the poor schools are taking all the funds and that their students are getting ahead of yours, even when you already live in a more economically privileged part of town. And then the truth is that the federal funds are only bringing those struggling schools to par, to the bare minimum of where your child’s schooling starts.

I’ll say that again: Title I brings struggling schools in Austin UP to the lowest level of the non-struggling schools; the myth of Title I, though, allows the people invested in the non-struggling schools to somehow imagine that those schools are underfunded and their students are hurting because of it.

Yes, rich people have more money. And if you believe that means that the kids of rich people therefore deserve a better public school system, there isn’t anything I can say to change your mind.

But we do all live in the society and, in this case, here in Austin, in this shared community. And if we are really invested in making our society, city, and community better, we need to invest in good public education across the board, not just for those who already have the money and the privilege and the access and the resources. I want my child to attend a good public school. Do I want that at the expense of a bunch of other students in AISD? Is that how we want this to work, the public education of our youth?

Acknowledging the disparity is an important start.

The report does offer ten action items to start correcting these problems:

1) Creating a district-wide foundation and an endowment to fund programs for low-equity schools

2) Creating the position of development director in each low-equity school

3) Partnering schools for better resource sharing

4) Better distribution of activity funds and monies obtained from district property use

5) Community organizers for low-equity schools

6) Enlisting UT to assist low-equity schools: teacher training and research, mentoring and tutoring, expanded volunteer programs (extracurricular activities and sports)

7) Curriculum-based technology task force for low-equity schools

8) Commitment by Austin businesses and local foundations to prioritize low-equity schools

9) Capping central administrative costs and salaries

10) Better public/private resource equity utilization

Link to full report from The Texas Civil Rights Project (link to full report appears just above the picture).

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2 Responses

  1. arieswym says:

    NY Times has covered this a lot in regards to the NYC schools Two articles here and here. The only city I’ve seen mentioned that has a citywide distribution system for the collection of privately raised dollars is Portland, OR. That is never followed up with information about the demographics of Portland and how they are unlike most other major US cities.

    Portland, OR – 76.1% White, 9.4% Hispanic, 7.1% Asian, 6.3% Black, 1.0% Native American, (source)
    Portland, OR schools – 55.6% White, 15.9% Hispanic, 12.1% Black, 9.2% Asian, 1.2% Native American, (source)

    Austin, TX = 68.3% White, 35.1% Hispanic, 8.1% Black, 6.3% Asian, 0.9% Native American (source)
    AISD = 61% Hispanic, 24% White, 9% Black, 3% Asian, 0.3% Native American (pdf source)

    As you can see, the Portland schools are still majority white and are close to the demographics of the city at large. That’s not the case in the Austin schools. The absence of White students in the schools relative to the community at large leads to individualistic attitudes, not communal ones interested in a public good.