This pandemic is an opportunity to change not only how we educate children, but how we fund that education. Right now, school and district leaders are looking to Congress to save their budgets from the disastrous drop in state and local tax revenues driven by the pandemic.
But while pundits and policy wonks debate whether federal money can plug the hole, parents are asking deeper questions about equity and transparency in how districts and schools use their funds. The pandemic has brought many parents much closer to the realities of their children’s learning experience, and they don't like what they have seen.
Since the onset of school closures, many Black parents have been reminded of their role as primary educators of their children. These parents have also begun to question whether traditional public schools are a real value-add for their children.
They are asking hard questions like:
Why is my child at such a huge deficit?
What did my child do for those 6.5 hours every day and what were the educators in the school doing?
Why are there so few Black teachers to serve as role models and forge meaningful connections with my child?
These lived questions lead to larger questions as well:
How do we justify the pay educators receive, when my child is still so far behind?
What is the function of administrators and district officials?
How are they making a difference for my child and others?
Traditionally, arguments about equity in education finance have focused on local and state control of school systems, noting the disparities in their tax bases and the inequities baked into the formulas that allocate these resources. The pandemic has brought these issues to the forefront with new urgency as state sales taxes have dried up, leaving schools reliant on their more stable, yet also more inequitable property tax bases. This leaves communities of color with the least wealth in the worst position.
At the same time, Black parents, who have long questioned the equity of school funding and the performance of traditional schools, are looking even more skeptically at these issues as they discern deeper disparities.
We can no longer separate the demand for more resources in schools from the equally compelling demand that those resources be used equitably, transparently and with full accountability to students and their families. Parents know that all money spent must show a clear benefit for their children’s educational outcomes. It is no longer acceptable for those in control of these funds to spend them without clear connections to student success.
Districts Must Be Accountable and Transparent
We know districts will need more money to address the challenges of learning during a pandemic, and yet they have not been held accountable for their failures to support our children with the money that has already been spent. Why were teachers and administrators receiving full pay while children waited weeks to start remote learning? How were districts purchasing millions of dollars of technology, yet students still lack access?
Lack of evolution and innovation has been the norm for the K-12 education system for so long that many were lulled to sleep. Now there is an awakening among parents. That awakening offers insight into how parents truly feel.
Will this awakening be enough to warrant change in funding, transparency and accountability? Will we muster the will to force meaningful change before more money is thrown at age-old problems? What is to be done?
We parents must end our broken relationship with traditional education. We must demand that traditional schools deliver acceptable outcomes for all children. Educators and superintendents must be pressured to follow suit. Any funding that does not serve this intended purpose must be shifted elsewhere.
Here’s the logical place to start: Hire more educators who look like the students in public schools.
Students of color truly benefit from seeing educators who look like them in their schools. I recognize that building the pipelines to increase the number of teachers of color who enter and stay in the field is not an immediate solution but a mid-to-long-term one. Yet there are steps we can take right now.
It's Time To Leverage Our Opportunities and Disrupt the System
First, we can leverage technology to bring teachers of color already in schools to more students. Prior to the pandemic, there may have been 25 teachers of color when 125 were needed. In the wake of remote learning, we are in a functional position to have those same 25 teachers leverage technology to serve five times as many students and produce an impact on the student experience immediately. This changes the calculus on what can be done today, as we continue to strive to bring the 125 teachers to the table tomorrow.
Second, we can hire specialists to help teachers develop their competence with cultures other than their own, as well as recognize and address implicit bias in the classroom. Districts can also partner with programs like City Year to bring near-peer mentors to students for tutoring and role models. These are affordable, practical, and immediate ways to increase the number of educators of color in our schools to begin to improve student experiences.
These opportunities in our new educational reality should be welcomed with open arms and fully leveraged for the benefit of our children. And we can continue to look for similar opportunities to put funds for assessment to work developing ways to examine student progress that are focused, culturally congruent and help teachers make swift instructional changes that deliver measurable results for children of color.
Now is the time to disrupt—and, therefore, improve—education for all our students.
Christina Laster is a civil rights activist and humanitarian who serves as Director of Policy and Legislation for the
National Parents Union. She is also the founder of the Inland Empire and San Diego Parent Unions, a former statewide community organizer with the California Policy Center, and a Black parent and grandparent in Southern California. ...