José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellows Program

drcardenasThe José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellows Program was established in 2013 by IDRA to honor the memory of IDRA founder, Dr. José Angel Cárdenas. The goal of the program is to engage the nation’s most promising researchers in investigating school finance solutions that secure equity and excellence for all public school students.

Program Framework

The José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellows Program focuses on and funds school finance research that builds cross-disciplinary and inter-sector perspectives on equity. IDRA selects one or more fellows per year who will dedicate themselves to a period of intense study and writing in school finance. IDRA holds an annual symposium that includes the release of the fellows program paper. The paper and findings are published in the symposium proceedings and disseminated to the education research and policymaker community.

2024 IDRA José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellow: J. Toufic Chahín

J Toufic Chahin photo 2024IDRA has named University of Texas at Austin doctoral student J. Toufic Chahín as our 2024 IDRA José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellow. Chahín is a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin studying education policy and planning within the College of Education. Coming from a family that valued education as a transformative force, he was inspired by his grandparents, who originally worked as migrant laborers, and his parents, who instilled the importance of educational opportunities. Following in the footsteps of a century of Texas educators in his family, he became a high school math teacher for seven years before pursuing further graduate studies.

Chahín’s research uses advanced statistical methodologies to highlight inequities in public education for under-represented students, specifically in how they are connected to the marketization of education as found in charter school systems. His collaborative work with IDRA as a fellow will focus on using quantitative analysis to identify inequities affecting students in charter schools in contrast to their traditional public school classmates, particularly in segregation, student achievement and college readiness.

2022 IDRA José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellows: Dr. Vanessa Sansone and Dr. David Martínez

University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) assistant professor Dr. Vanessa A. Sansone and University of South Carolina assistant professor Dr. Davíd G. Martínez were our 2022 IDRA José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellows.

Dr. Sansone is an assistant professor of higher education in UTSA’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. Her research interests focus on understanding college affordability, Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), and power structures and governance on the trajectories, experiences and opportunities of historically underserved students. She holds a doctorate in educational leadership with an emphasis in higher education from UTSA.

As a fellow, Dr. Sansone conducted a comparative case study analysis of CARES Act spending patterns among selected HSIs within Texas. Centering decision-making in uncertain times within a resource dependency framing, she synthesized the educational policy funding context in which selected public HSIs were operating pre-pandemic to understand how they spent federal emergency relief aid during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study will inform understandings about future state and federal financial investments for HSIs, HSI revenue and expenditure trends, and federal relief aid spending among HSIs. IDRA released her report, An Exploration of CARES Act Funding Policies Affecting Hispanic-Serving Institutions in Texas, in May 2023 at a virtual symposium (Executive Summary).

Dr. Martínez is a tenure track assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policies at the College of Education of the University of South Carolina. He is a critical school finance policy scholar connecting policy knowledge and praxis through multi-method inquiry. Dr. Martínez seeks to understand how school finance policy impacts funding availability and spending in low-income, ethnically and linguistically diverse, minoritized communities. Dr. Martínez holds a doctorate in educational policy and evaluation, economics of education and school finance from Arizona State University.

During the fellowship, Dr. Martínez analyzed South Carolina school finance priorities in high-proportion Latino districts during COVID-19. Using a multi-method design incorporating longitudinal district-level funding analysis to guide in-depth interviews with a broad, statewide and stratified sample of educational leaders in South Carolina, his research sought to understand if high-proportion Latino districts have the necessary resources to provide a salient program of instruction to their Latino students during the unprecedented and ongoing health crisis. IDRA released his report, A Disproportionality Analysis of South Carolina School Finance Policy Priorities in High Proportion LatinX Districts During COVID-19, by David Martínez, David Osworth, Hector L. Díaz, in May 2023 at a virtual symposium. (See also Did Anyone Ask the Leaders? Reviewing South Carolina School Finance Disparities in High Proportion LatinX School Districts during COVID-19 – Executive Summary.)

Our fellows presented their research at IDRA’s José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellow Virtual Symposium on May 18, 2023. Event details and video are here.

2019 IDRA José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellow: Dr. Cristóbal Rodríguez

Howard University professor Dr. Cristóbal Rodríguez was the 2019 IDRA José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellow. He is an associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies and is the director of graduate studies in the School of Education at Howard University in Washington, D.C. His research centers on diverse demographics and explores how policy and leadership influence equity and access for diverse populations throughout the educational pipeline. He received his Ph.D. in educational policy and planning at the University of Texas at Austin, with an emphasis on education research, evaluation and policy analysis with a social and cultural historical focus.

“It is a distinct honor and blessing to have the opportunity to work with IDRA and the scholars leading this longstanding distinguished research organization that is centered in serving children across multiple communities.” Dr. Rodríguez said.

As IDRA’s school finance fellow, Dr. Cristóbal Rodríguez analyzed the relationship of school finance policies and practices and their influence on equitable access to college readiness courses. This study carries implications for responding to current inequities plaguing the highest performing students of underserved student populations and for using reform mandates to argue for systemic school finance solutions. Since its founding in 1973, IDRA has been at the forefront of legislative and litigation efforts to achieve equal educational opportunity through strong public schools that prepare all students to access and succeed in college. IDRA released his report, Texas is Not Financing College Readiness – Wealth and Inequities Highlighted by the Civil Rights Data Collection, in October 2021 at a virtual symposium. IDRA’s infographic draws from the research results and other data regarding math and college readiness. The recorded symposium video is available on YouTube. And see our related infographic: Math & College Readiness.

2016 IDRA José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellow: Dr. Marialena Rivera

Dr. Marialena Rivera was the 2016 José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellow for the second round of the program. She received her doctorate from the University of California Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education in the Policy, Organization, Measurement and Evaluation program. She is an assistant professor in the educational leadership program at Texas State University. Her research focuses on the politics of education policy, privatization, school finance, and school leadership for school improvement. Her dissertation research explores school district debt financing and the politics of privatization. Dr. Rivera is from San Antonio and attended the University of Texas at Austin where she received a bachelor of business administration in the Business Honors Program and Marketing and a bachelor of arts in government. She earned a master of science for teachers at Pace University while teaching middle school in the Bronx, New York, and a master of public policy from the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California Berkeley.

At a research symposium at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference in April 2017, Dr. Rivera provided a briefing on her study, “What about the Schools? – Factors Contributing to Expanded State Investment in School Facilities,” followed by a panel discussion with experts from across the country.  Through case studies of five states, Dr. Rivera examined factors contributing to expanded state investment in equitable public school facilities and how those factors can be leveraged to encourage states that make minimal investments to expand support for facilities funding. Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas and Wyoming were the subjects of the case studies. Get information on the event at AERA in 2017, State Investment in School Facilities – José A. Cárdenas 2017 School Finance Fellows Program Research Symposium, along with the study and related materials.

2014 IDRA José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellows Program: Dr. Oscar Jimenez-Castellanos

Dr. Oscar Jimenez-Castellanos was the 2014 José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellow for the inaugural year of the program. An assistant professor at the time in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, Dr. Jimenez-Castellanos has published extensively in the area of K-12 education finance, policy and parent engagement and its impact on opportunity, equity and outcomes in low-income ethnically and linguistically diverse communities. Read the announcement about Dr. Jimenez-Castellanos and IDRA’s new fellowship program.

As IDRA’s 2014 José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellow, he conducted an important and timely empirical study to examine the amount of supplemental funding above the base funding level that is required to effectively implement appropriate services for English language learners at the secondary level in the State of Texas. The first symposium brought together more than 80 education and community leaders, and experts in law and education research around the critical question of how we can improve education quality and access for secondary English learner students. A proceedings document was published with key insights from the symposium along with the research study conducted by Dr. Jimenez-Castellanos and a set of recommendations useful for policymakers, educators, community and business leaders and parents.


Dr. Cárdenas was actively involved in the school finance reform efforts since the early days of the Rodríguez vs. San Antonio ISD litigation when he was superintendent of the Edgewood ISD. Following the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court reversal of the Rodríguez decision that found the Texas system of school finance unconstitutional, he resigned from the Edgewood ISD to establish IDRA to advocate school finance reform and improved educational opportunities for all children. He led decades-long efforts to achieve school finance equity and was instrumental in the Edgewood court cases. His research, articles and books provided a blueprint for those interested in bringing about future reform in schools and other social institutions.

In the foreword of Dr. Cárdenas’ book, Texas School Finance Reform: An IDRA Perspective, Dr. James A. Kelly stated: “He worked hard, he played hard. And in doing so, never lost sight of his goal. Because for José school finance reform was never really an end in itself. It remained a means to a larger end: to improve teaching and learning for all children; in particular, to improve the life chances of the poor and dispossessed.”

Advisory Committee Members 2023-2025

Jaime Chahin, Ph.D., Texas State University, Professor and Dean, College of Applied Arts

Edward García Fierros, Ph.D., Villanova University, Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Albert Kauffman, J.D., St. Mary’s University, Professor of Law

Pedro Reyes, Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin, Ashbel Smith Professor of Education Leadership & Policy

María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D., IDRA President Emerita