Wed February 5, 2014
Nonprofit Says Austin Schools Don't Address Inequality Among Students
A nonprofit legal foundation says the Austin Independent School District isn’t addressing education inequalities between high and low-income students.
The Texas Civil Rights Project released an updated report Tuesday on equal opportunity in the district. It's urging the district to start an independent equity foundation, which would direct private money to schools in low-income neighborhoods and create a level playing field between students regardless of their parents' income. The foundation would promote equal access to things like books and quality teachers and how schools spend their money.
At a press conference Tuesday, the group also says it wants the school district to make its finances more transparent and improve community engagement. Joe Berra is one of the attorneys with the Texas Civil Rights Project. He says not much has changed since the group issued a similar report two years ago.
“It’s really hard to get a handle on the problem and what we need is a firmer commitment and leadership on the issue," Berra says.
Berra says one major inequality between high and low-income schools is the number of private donations to individual campuses. According to the Civil Rights Project, some elementary schools raise nearly $1,000 per student in private donations, while others only raise about $40 dollars per student.
In a statement, the school district said it is reviewing the report, but board president Vincent Torres says at the end of the day, nothing will ever be totally equal.
“There’s always going to be things that some of our students demographically bring to the table that can’t be compensated for," Torres said in a phone interview Tuesday. "A parent that’s incarcerated, parents that are having difficulty at home or [as] a result of their income situation. How you totally make things equitable for that are beyond the abilities of public school systems to address all these social needs.”
Berra with the Texas Civil Rights Project says inequalities persist partly because of the way the district uses Title I money, which is federal funding that goes toward predominantly low-income schools. Berra thinks that money should be used as a supplement to general education funding. But Board President Torres disagrees.
“Those schools are eligible for vast sums of money that the so called higher income parent schools aren’t eligible for. So there’s an automatic equalizer that occurs," Torres says.
The district says it will have an official response once it finishes reviewing the report.