Chal­lenges fac­ing Latino stu­dents dis­cussed

Event explores school fund­ing for­mula’s neg­a­tive ef­fect on His­pan­ics

Yuma Sun - - FRONT PAGE - BY BLAKE HER­ZOG @BLAKEHERZOG

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.

FILE PHOTO BY HOWARD FIS­CHER/CAPI­TOL ME­DIA SER­VICES

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.”

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