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Funding challenges, racial inequality and charters -- can LAUSD create a better system for all students?

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A Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school bus yard is reflected in a mirror in the North Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles. Photo credit: Jason Redmond/Reuters.

After the teachers strike and a new contract, LAUSD will have smaller class sizes, better paid teachers, and more nurses, librarians, and counselors. But LA public schools will continue to face bigger systemic issues that this latest agreement won’t fix, such as funding and inequality. We talk about them with:

John Rogers, Professor of Education at UCLA, and director of the Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access; David E. Kirkland, Executive Director of NYU Metro Center (for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools); Courtney Everts Mykytyn, founder of Integrated Schools, which encourages white and/or privileged families to send their children to local public schools.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

The link between funding and segregation

Everts Mykytyn: White and/or privileged families have long been able to insulate themselves from the worst of our budget cuts. It’s a lot easier to find the ‘better school’ and raise money for that ‘better school’ through huge PTA galas, etc. than it is to march to Sacramento.  

Co-location between charter schools and public schools

John Rogers: We need to rethink how we go about authorizing charter schools, and how we go about re-authorizing charter schools in ways that the costs are borne more equally; in ways that we are ensured that special education students with the greatest needs are not disproportionately in one sector; and in the ways in which we ensure that students who are perceived to be discipline problems aren't pushed out of charter schools, and hence creating more inequality in the public education system.

What about parents who say, ‘I really want to send my kid to my local school, but I just don't want to risk it. I want to make sure they have the best education possible?’

Everts Mykytyn: What does that mean -- this ‘good school?’ How are we defining what that actually looks like? And what is it that you are risking? … There may be tradeoffs in terms of how many field trips your kid gets if they're going to an under-resourced school versus a school that has a PTA that raises $300,000 a year. But there are also a huge number of benefits that your kid will get, and that your family will get, if you are in a community… that isn't segregated.

What about parents who say, ‘I don’t want my kid to be the only white kid in school?’

Everts Mykytyn: It's really different to be the only white kid in a school than the only kid of color in a school. And I think that there are a lot of advantages. My kids are still white on the weekends. My kids are still privileged after school. … My son is now I think the only … white kid in his large urban high school that he knows. And it's been a wonderful experience. Not always simple, but valuable.

Kirkland: One reason that some schools fail or are vulnerable is because we concentrate vulnerability there, and we concentrate privilege in other places.

...If white parents or other individuals who have means -- if we choose policies and practices that open up opportunities, we will see an equivalent change within those schools, that those schools will improve as well.

...Segregation is the fundamental issue within schooling. It is a manifestation of white supremacy and anti-black and anti-brown racism -- two things that we tend not to want to talk about within schooling.

What should LAUSD do to promote more integration and equality in schools?

Rogers: LAUSD faces a challenge in advancing integration in the sense that there are 9 percent or so white students in the district right now. So we have such high levels of residential segregation in greater Los Angeles that traditional understandings of desegregation -- meaning that you have small numbers of students of color in majority white schools -- is no longer possible in greater Los Angeles.

That's not to say that we cannot create sites where students across lines of race come together and have high quality education. One critical factor in ensuring that is allowing for sufficient resources to be brought to bear in public education, so that parents feel like all choices are good choices.

...Only about a quarter of residents in Los Angeles County are white now. And so there are fewer and fewer white citizens of Los Angeles County. And the white students primarily are in districts outside of LAUSD. And then many white families are sending their children to private schools as well. And so we can't have this sort of model of desegregation we had before.

I also think it's important to recognize that multiracial settings can be settings where we're bringing together Latino and African-American students and Asian-American students -- that some of the benefits of diversity don't necessitate having white students present.

Paying for excellent education -- what if parents at a wealthy school raise lots of money and give half to a neighboring school that's not as wealthy?

Everts Mykytyn: Different cities around the country have talked in different ways about pooling PTA or PTA monies. Not always in productive conversations. But I think looking at the larger structural issues is really critical. When you're spending as much time as it takes to put together a huge gala event, that is time that you're not lobbying for fair and equitable funding.

-- Written by Amy Ta, produced by Yael Even Or.

Credits

Guests:
John Rogers - Professor of Education at UCLA, director of the Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access, Courtney Everts Mykytyn - founder of Integrated Schools, David E. Kirkland - Executive Director of NYU Metro Center (for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools)

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Michell Eloy, Amy Ta, Christian Bordal, Yael Even Or, Alexandra Sif Tryggvadottir, Caitlin Plummer