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Apodaca: California's education becoming the Titanic

May 03, 2013|By Patrice Apodaca

Underlying all the many issues in education is one big, persistent problem: income inequality.

From preschool to college, from test scores to technology access, socioeconomic status is the single most important determinant of student opportunity and achievement. This has long been, and probably will always be the case, but it hasn't always been addressed or even fully acknowledged.

Recently, however, some bold, yet vastly different, responses to the have/have-not problem have emerged, each bringing fresh controversy while challenging our ideas about how far our public school system should go to try to engineer solutions.

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First, there is Gov. Jerry Brown's fervent advocacy of a so-called weighted student formula for determining how much state money schools receive. Under his proposal, those schools serving disadvantaged students would receive proportionately more funding than schools in relatively affluent areas. The reasoning is simple: Poor kids need the money more.

Then there is the highly publicized effort by the Santa Monica-Malibu school district to redirect money raised through parent fundraising efforts from its schools in wealthier areas to its lower-income campuses. The proposal has created such a furor that some parents have launched a secessionist movement to split the district in two.

The income inequality issue is even rearing its head amid the fiery debate over teacher evaluations. Many argue that using student test scores to determine teacher effectiveness is unfair because those scores will only improve so much amid the negative effects of economic instability. Students generally don't test well when they come to school hungry.

All these pieces in play are of significant interest here in Newport-Mesa. Our own district has been cut to the bone through a series of budget cuts and remains in relatively sound fiscal health compared with many other school systems. Yet the situation remains precarious on the home front as lawmakers rev up to negotiate Brown's plan.

What's more, Newport-Mesa is also a district with even more stark income disparities within its borders than Santa Monica-Malibu. Money raised through foundations and parent teacher associations helped keep many programs alive at some of our campuses during the past several years. As the debate rages over Santa Monica-Malibu's fundraising redistribution plan, it's not unthinkable that a district like ours could become a target of similar efforts to share the wealth among schools.

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