Challenges facing Latino students discussed
Event explores school funding formula’s negative effect on Hispanics
Fifty school board members, educators, parents and students attended a presentation on how Arizona’s education funding formula creates particular hardships for school districts with large Latino student populations Thursday.
The data was presented by David Garcia, an associate professor at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, who was the lead author of the report it came from, “State of Latino AZ.” He is also a Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
Garcia said the state divides its K-12 education funding between districts on an equitable percapita basis.
“State funding in Arizona is largely equalized, Actually, the Arizona state funding system is one of the most equalized in the country, believe it or not. The problem is we’re not funding it enough,” Garcia said.
Arizona ranks at or near the bottom of most national surveys comparing education spending, and even though its funding is fairly distributed, the inequities in total spending show up between school districts with high and low tax bases.
“The more local our funding becomes, the more inequitable it is. It’s that straightforward,” he said, pointing to data compiled from Arizona Department of Education reports and other sources. “The more
you rely on local property taxes, the more you rely on parents paying out-of-pocket, the more inequitable funding is going to be.”
Local school districts with student bodies that are 75 percent Hispanic or higher are generally the same ones that have the lowest property values, making it much harder to compensate for reduced state spending.
Elementary school districts with high concentrations of Latino students have an average of about $38,400 in secondary property tax value per student to draw upon, he said, as opposed to $102,800 for districts where they make up less than 25 percent of total students, he said.
These lower values lead to lower school property tax collections, putting them behind wealthier districts that tend to have mostly white students. Voters in the low-valued districts tend to be poorer, so their leaders are sometimes reluctant to seek approval for school bonds or overrides.
Garcia said this appears to have happened with predominantly Latino districts in the last few years.
“For some reason they went out (to an election) at a lower rate. But when they did go out, they passed overrides and bonds at a higher rate than the rest of the state,” he said. “This is good news, because it shows a commitment on behalf of the Latino community when possible to fund education for themselves.”
Under the state’s school tax credit program, heavily Hispanic districts lose out again, because taxpayers tend to give their tax credits to campuses where they have a personal connection, such as a child, grandchild or other relative attending it. High-Latino population districts in Arizona in 2014 had an average of $12 of tax credit funding available per student, versus $87 per student in districts with small Latino populations.
Because this money can’t be used for classroom expenses, it usually funds field trips or activities like bands or robotics clubs.
“All of those extracurricular activities which make education interesting, that make education worthwhile, are now largely funded by tax credits,” he said.
Where mostly Hispanic districts do tend to come out ahead is with federal funding, which is earmarked for students with lower family incomes, disabilities or other disadvantages, under Title 1 and other regulations.
Garcia said his study did not look at student achievement data.
“We generally know that Latino students underperform relative to white students in Arizona. We generally know that if you are ELL, you are underperforming even worse. We generally know the further you get out of large metropolitan areas, the more rural and isolated they become, they have more challenges.
“The reason we don’t take it up in this report is I’ve seen it elsewhere, and guess what conversation gets started? Funding.” he said.
Likely all of the Yumaarea school districts fall under the report’s definition of high Latino enrollment, and Garcia told the audience members they could be advocates for change in the school tax-credit program in order to begin addressing the issues that depress funding for students in predominantly Hispanic districts.
Gadsden Elementary School District board president Luis Marquez said the message that came through to him is, “we have to get more contributions from parents. We’re already asking them to buy everything their kids need for school; we used to be able to give them everything.
Yuma Union High School District board member David Lara said he’s not familiar with Garcia’s report or statewide trends in general, but feels broad comparisons don’t always work.
“You really can’t take all of the school districts and lump them together, because each one is unique. Each school district will have their own particular needs, so to lump them all together, I don’t think is fair. Different parts of the state are different,” he said.
DEMOCRAT DAVID GARCIA, seen here announcing his candidacy for Arizona governor earlier this year, was in Yuma on Thursday to discuss his report “State of Latino AZ.”