• by Anna Alicia Romero • IDRA Newsletter • February 1999
The 1998-99 school year has been one of changes in San Antonio for the Edgewood Independent School District (ISD). Last year, the Children’s Educational Opportunity Foundation (CEO Foundation) held a press conference announcing that they would contribute $50 million to low-income families living within the boundaries of the Edgewood ISD to attend private schools.
Below are responses from parents on the subject of publicly funded private school vouchers and their effects on the education of all children and their community. Responses were obtained through focus group interviews and one-on-one interviews. In the participants’ answers there are references to the North side of the city, which is usually held as the part of town with greater resources. Alamo Heights is a section of Bexar county that is affluent and whose public schools are well equipped. This is in contrast to the Edgewood district, which is predominately Hispanic with a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students and has historically been a district with low property tax wealth. Edgewood ISD is also well-known in Texas for being the lead plaintiff in a historic lawsuit against the state for inherent inequities in the former method public schools were funded.
The people interviewed are:
- A.B.: Alice Barbosa, a retired grandmother residing in San Antonio ISD;
- C.G.: Grace Garza, a grandmother and an employee of Edgewood ISD;
- M.O.: Martha G. Ortiz, a vocal and active parent in Harlandale ISD;
- C.P.: Clementina Padilla, a grandmother in Edgewood ISD;
- C.R.: Celia Rodriguez, a concerned and active San Antonio residing within San Antonio ISD;
- D.R.: Dolores Rodriguez, a parent in Harlandale ISD.
- H.R.: Helen Rodriguez, also a concerned and active citizen residing within San Antonio ISD; and
- S.R.: Sylvia Rodriguez, an active parent in Edgewood ISD.
Why are our neighborhood public schools important?
H.R.: If they’re in the neighborhood, they can be closer to their homes. The parents will probably be able to attend to the school and be closer to their children.
G.G.: The neighborhood public schools are very important because when a family moves in and they think, “where is my house going to be?” it’s going to be near a public school, or a school period.
C.P: Porque son accesibles al medio socio-económico en esta área – no todo el mundo tiene un carro. Es muy importante que los niños de esta área acudan a las escuelas de su comunidad, lo más cercano posible es mejor para la madre y el padre. Veo que (las escuelas) tienen buenos programas. Pero lamentable, no todos los padres tienen la información.
[Because they are accessible to the socio-economic level in this area. Not everyone has a car. It is very important that the children go to the schools in their community. The closer the better for the mother and father. I see that they (the schools) have good programs. Sadly, not all parents have that information.]
DR: Because we have the right to speak up on education and speak up about what kind of education our kids are getting. They [the schools] ask for our opinion, and we can give it. We have a right to speak as a parent. We can get involved, and that’s part of the learning process for our kids.
M.O.: We can pressure our administrators, our teachers to do a better job versus the private system. They don’t want to hear you, they feel they have a pretty good thing going on. In the public schools they know we are watching, and they have to respond. Also, the public schools offer more as far as sports and the fine arts. Children should be kept in good physical condition. In private schools it’s not mandatory.
SR: Well, for the education of our kids and building up the community as a whole there. I’ve got a child in the elementary, the middle school and the high school, and they’re all fairly close. To me that’s important in their educational lives. Some people may not be able to afford to [travel] further out than some others. Basically, you see a lot of your neighbors there too. You have a lot more camaraderie going on with the parents.
How do you feel our neighborhood public schools could be improved?
C.R.: They can improve by having better teachers, better superintendents and, at the same time, teach the children that they’re supposed to behave and understand and study. That’s why there’s so many dropouts. The teachers are there to help them, but sometimes they just don’t…If the parents will see that they’re doing everything for the children and at the same time they can themselves cooperate in a lot of things around the school to help the children.
AB: Pues yo diría que tener más disciplina entre los chamacos y…que las maestras estén, como te diré, que estén al tanto de que los chamacos estén estudiando bien y todo pero se necesitan…yo pienso que se necesitan más maestras para que no tengan tantos niños en una clase sola. Porque entre menos chamacos tengan, más tiempo puede dedicar la maestra a los niños. Porque yo he sabido que ha habido escuelas que tienen muchos niños en una clase y no pueden dedicar mucho tiempo en uno. Ponle que quince o veinte. Si tienen más de treinta pues es muy difícil que la maestra se dedique mucho tiempo a los niños. Y pues, yo digo que si se dedican más tiempo con los chamacos, pueda ser que salgan más educados los niños y ponen más atención.
[Well, I would say that having more discipline among the kids, that the teachers be aware that kids are studying well. I think they need more teachers so there won’t be so many children in one classroom. Because the less children they have, the more time a teacher can dedicate to the children. If they spend more time with the kids, it could be that the children get better educated and that they pay more attention.]
C.R.: Y que hayan maestras bilingües. Eso es muy importante. Muy importante para los niños. Porque deben aprender inglés pero al mismo tiempo también deben aprender español.
[And that there be bilingual teachers. That is very important, very important for the children. Because they should learn English but at the same time learn Spanish.]
C.P.: Me gustaría que se mejoraran las escuelas en mi distrito porque eso es parte del autoestima de los niños y las maestras también. Que vayan a una escuela bonita donde eleven su autoestima escolar. Que no hayan ventanas rotas, las paredes mal pintadas. ¡No le van a dar ganas de volver! Yo peleo mucho por el autoestima de los niños cuando entran a la escuela o cuando salen de la casa.
[I would like to see that the schools in my district improve because that is part of the children’s self-esteem and the teachers’ too; that they go to a pretty school where they raise their academic self-esteem; that there not be broken windows and poorly painted walls. They’re not going to want to come back! I fight a lot for children’s self-esteem from the time they walk into a school or leave their house.]
M.O.: Make the teachers accountable. I know they say we have good teachers and so forth, especially when teachers come from the North [North side of San Antonio]. I have seen teachers who come from the North or from the outside, they are indifferent to our education and our children. I feel our students are not challenged enough. There are some [teachers] who just come to pick up a paycheck. I have made enemies for saying this, but I have to say what I feel and see.
SR: I would like to see a more open-door policy from the administration for the volunteers…school-wise, a wider selection of electives in the school. But I guess as a whole, they’re all right.
There is a topic that I like to discuss, that’s special ed. It needs to be improved.
I would like to see less police called in for minor infractions when they can be solved by following procedures. I would like to see less of a dropout rate. There’s got to be other ways to work out things with the kids and call the parents to come in. They can find other ways…working with the parents. Why are they going through all those problems? I feel they should check them [the students] out right away. Are they dyslexic? Are they special ed.? Do they fall into those categories? And if they do, take care of that problem. And if they don’t and there isn’t a problem, then go to other procedures.
What do “vouchers” mean to you and how do you feel about public money going to private schools?
C.R.: Well, I think that the public money should stay in public schools. If a child is going to transfer to a private school, he’s going to have to take the bus and a lot of things…I don’t think so…
AB: Yeah, but they’re offering the money, Celia…
C.R.: I don’t think it’s right. I don’t think it’s right. I think public money should stay in public schools.
AB: Well, I’ve heard quite a bit about that, but I’m not in favor of it either, but I kind of feel that if it’s going to be an advantage to the student to better himself, that’s fine. But then it’s going to create problems for the rest of the schools plus to the parents. If they can’t afford to have the child go to a better school – or I wouldn’t say better because to me all the schools are the same if they have good teachers – they can advance just as well there or in any other schools and that money should be used at the school, the public school.
H.R.: Que tengan más interés también que estén seguros que las criaturas que les den el voucher que sí tengan el interés en usarlo. Y así también los padres que les ayuden a tener más interés en esa oportunidad. Eso es lo que creo yo.
[That they also have more interest in it…that they be sure that the children to whom they are giving the voucher are interested in usingit. And that way parents can help them have a greater interest in that opportunity. That’s what I think.]
G.G.: I want to know where these men, these CEOs, get off in coming in [here]. But I did some research. When I first saw Walton’s name on the list of the directors, I said to h— with this man. I’m not going to go to Wal-Mart any more.
We had a board meeting at [our elementary school]. I had never seen so many media come out of the woodwork for a board meeting. But I’m going to quote what one of my volunteers said. Her daughter is in a gifted and talented program. That parent is very involved in the community; I’m saying church, school and home, in everything. She has three children. Her comment was, “I was asked, ‘why didn’t you apply to get one of those vouchers?’ Why should I want to go anywhere else when my child is already receiving a very good education?”
C.P.: Como no tengo toda la información, parece ser algo maravilloso. Pero como estoy oyendo un poco más, no se oye que son para el beneficio de las escuelas ni las familias y ha de haber otros padres como yo que no tienen toda la información, ni qué son, ni de dónde vienen, ni cómo se usan. Sería muy importante saber cuál es la finalidad de esos vouchers, saber a dónde vamos.
[Since I don’t have all of the information, it appears to be something wonderful. But as I am hearing more, it doesn’t sound to me to be for the benefit of either the schools or the families. There are probably other parents like me who don’t have the full information, nor what they (the vouchers) are, or where they came from, or how they are used. It would be very important to know what is the end result of those vouchers, to know where we are going.]
M.O.: To begin with, there should be a separation of public institutions and the private. They are also taking money away from our children. If you want to send your child to private school, that is your right, but to me it’s an injustice to take money that is needed more in the public schools. To me this was not an angel helping Edgewood. They’re just trying to destroy the public education system, and they are masking it by saying they are helping the poor…we are supposed to help all children.
Here in the United States all children should have the right to a good quality education, not just the elite. Everyone should get it. No child should be denied.
Many jobs could be lost. People would be displaced. The neighborhood would go down.
How would public money going to private schools affect your schools?
C.R.: Less money.
A.B.: And why can’t that money be used just as well, as it is with a private school, be used in a public school?
Who would benefit the most from vouchers?
C.P.: Sería un derrumbe. Porque no todo el mundo puede mandar a sus niños a las escuelas privadas. De hecho yo no pude. Para mi eso sería desastroso. ¿Qué le pasaría a esta comunidad? ¿Van a aceptar a todos mis niños? ¿A todos los niños Latinos con mis impuestos?
[It would mean a collapse, because not everyone in the world can send their children to private school. As a matter of fact, I can’t. For me, it would be disastrous. What would happen to this community? Are they going to accept all my children? All Latino children with my taxes?]
M.O.: I’m very much against it. I don’t care if it’s a poor school district or one like Alamo Heights. Public funding should be shared by all public schools. If you want your child in a private school, you should pay for it out of your own pocket. The only thing it’ll do is weaken the public system and make it go down. I’m talking about maintenance, I’m talking about teachers, I’m talking about everything.
Private schools exigen a los padres que vendan esto, que vendan lo otro [require parents to sell this and sell that]. It’s not going to stop.
It would mean the deterioration of the buildings. As it is, it’s tough deciding this because of the hard heads on the mesa directiva [school board]. This means a lot less money for books, a lot less money for everything. Every student should have a book, there’s no excuse for this. It just makes my blood boil. How dare them. I’ll do whatever it takes to help Edgewood, to speak against vouchers. I’ll do whatever it takes.
SR: Oh, it’s going to affect it greatly because more kids are going to go to the private school so our school district is going to have less monies. Then after a while they’re going to have less teachers, less money to spend on the kids as a whole that we have there, and we’re going to lose more of our kids…the families that can’t afford schooling for a better education. This is their one chance, that’s how they see it. And if you have too many of those people doing that, the school district is going to go way down, way down.
C.R.: I guess the private school [would benefit the most]! Not the children, or am I wrong?
C.P.: Ese es otro punto donde yo tengo poca información. Yo sé que cada año yo pago impuestos. Como yo oigo mis hijos decir que la comida es muy feíta y yo supongo que mis impuestos van para darles de comer a los niños y a las composturas de la escuela…no se aquí como funciona la secretaría de la educación. Pero para eso trabajamos los padres para mejorar los edificios y proveerle a los niños lo que les falta.
[That is another point where I have little information. I know that every year I pay taxes. I hear my children say that the food is a little ugly, and I suppose that my taxes go to feed the children and for repairs to the school. I don’t know how the department of education operates here. But that is why we parents work, to improve the (school) buildings and to provide children with what they need.]
Suena muy bonito y detrás de algo muy bonito hay algo muy malo. ¿Quién dio ese dinero?
[It sounds nice and behind something very nice, there is something very bad. Who gave that money?]
DR: Well, I really don’t know. I think it’s more needed in the public schools. I don’t think you should use it for private schools. We need it more in the public schools. Maybe if there’s extra money for teachers we can use it for extra teachers instead of sending it to the private schools…you know, for more books, materials.
M.O.: Everybody loses. Nobody will benefit from it, going all the way from neighborhoods, everybody loses. Are we doing justice to the ones being chosen and the ones left behind’ I don’t think so.
SR: Just a small amount of our children and families compared to everybody as a whole. It would be a very small fraction. I would like to see it where it’s evenly distributed [the privately funded vouchers] whether it’s private or public. It should be straight across the board. The public schools get a certain amount of money too. You shouldn’t have to go just to a private school to get your so-called better education. I would like to see the money go into the public schools instead of to certain individuals. There should be equal opportunities for all kids regardless of where you live.
How will children with special needs be affected by vouchers?
C.P.: No lo sé. No se sí están aceptando niños con necesidades especiales o se hacen excepciones.
[I don’t know. I don’t know if they are accepting children with special needs or if they are making exceptions.]
D.R.: That money could be used over here for the public schools for computers, materials or extra help that they need in the rooms…for teachers to be better trained to work with special needs children.
S.R.: This is one of the reasons I haven?t taken advantage of the voucher. I realize Edgewood still has a ways to go, bt, let me tell you, they’re ahead of the game compared to some of the people in the North side.
If you had a choice to use this money to improve your neighborhood public schools or send your child to private school, what would you do?
G.G.: Improve my neighborhood schools.
S.R.: I would take the public schools because if it’s the private then it’s just your individual children, but if it’s the public schools, that affects all kids. You do get a portion of it as well as everyone else and everybody goes up together.
C.P.: Yo mejoraría la educación al nivel escolar de las escuelas en mi comunidad. Siempre habrán niños en estas escuelas y los edificios. Ese dinero lo quieren para ayudar a unos cuantos y no a todo los niños, no a toda la comunidad.
[I would improve education at the school level in my community. There will always be children in these schools and buildings. They want that money to help just a few and not all children, not the whole community.]
Through the national Mobilization for Equity project (funded by the Ford Foundation through the National Coalition of Advocates for Students), IDRA has led an ongoing effort to develop a network of parents in Texas who work together to achieve the best possible education for all students. Participants in this network, Families United For Education: Getting Organized [Familias unidas para la educación: ganando organizadas] (FUEGO), represent various school districts, distinct geographic areas and the spectrum of socio-economic and educational backgrounds. They have come together to share information and their experiences in order to promote greater awareness of education issues. Below are principles they have outlined related to the issue of public money used for private schooling
Defending Our Neighborhood Public Schools Against Vouchers
|Hay que defender nuestras vecindades y escuelas contra Los vales|
|What are vouchers? “Vouchers refer either to tax rebates for parents or student scholarships funded with public tax dollars to help pay the cost of tuition at private or parochial schools.”*||¿Qué son vales (vouchers)? “Los vales se refieren o a rebajas en el impuesto de Los padres o a becas al estudiante financiadas con fondos públicos para ayudar a pagar El costo de la inscripción en escuelas privadas o parroquiales.”*|
* Lain, J. Exploding the Myths About Vouchers (Texas Association of School Boards: Texas Lone Star, March 1998).
Anna Alicia Romero is an education assistant in the IDRA Institute for Policy and Leadership. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©1999, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 1999 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]