Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Disproportionate Funds for Schools- Part 2

Last week I blogged about my experience at two different schools in HISD and even my two different experiences with two children at the same school. I had to tell the whole story about my son and what we went through to finally have him identified by the school district as having Asperger's Syndrome so that I could explain how we found out first-hand what some schools have and others don't have.

Image from education blog

Just to recap. Oak Forest Elementary is in the Oak Forest neighborhood. It's on 43rd Street between Ella and TC Jester. They have a beautiful big library with a librarian, a school nurse, a music teacher, a band teacher, a science lab, a science teacher, a computer lab, an art teacher, an arboretum with little theater seating benches, a beautiful garden of milkweed for the monarch butterflies, and a nice black top playground with basketball hoops. It has great teachers and a very active PTA. It also has a great Vanguard program and they are a National Blue Ribbon winner school.

Jefferson Elementary is on Sharman St. off of Cavalcade and the 45 North freeway. It is right next to the Lindale Park neighborhood. When my son started attending this school I was mostly shocked to find out that they didn't have a school nurse, a library or a librarian. In my mind these are essential for any school.

I also found out that they don't have an art teacher, a science lab or a science teacher. I know these aren't essential, but they would be nice. I wondered about the toilet paper but a teacher friend explained to me that the main reason students are only given so much toilet paper at some schools, especially the older schools with older plumbing, is so that they won't clog the toilets or make a mess.

I know that the parents at Oak Forest are the reason why they have such a beautiful garden with the milkweed and other flowers. The parents volunteer their time to make the school beautiful and a great experience for the children.

But back to Jefferson Elementary. When I found out about all the things that Jefferson does not have as compared to Oak Forest it made me wonder about all the reasons why. I realize that the parents and their donations have a lot to do with it. I know that the parents at Oak Forest are very involved. I haven't been at Jefferson long enough to find out about their PTA or the average household income of the parents.

Of course the schools get money from the state. I've read and heard that their test scores on standardized tests have a lot to do with how much schools receive. But I wondered, how do they decide exactly how much each school gets?

I first went online to the HISD website to find out. It only makes sense that since it's a public school system that information should be public. It's not.

When I didn't find the answer there I Googled the subject and I came across this great article written by Lynne Walsh on the Texas Watchdog, "Rich school, poor school: How much Houston ISD spends to educate each child varies greatly between schools."

Walsh points out that "Some of the confusion stems from the numerous pots of money from which HISD’s 300-plus schools get cash each year." To explain all the different places that the money comes from she refers to this other article on Texas Watchdog, "See all of your HISD school's funding data" by Jennifer Peebles. 

If this calcultor is accurate, what I found out really surprised me. I typed in both Oak Forest and Jefferson and I found that in fact Jefferson receives slightly less money than Oak Forest but more money when it's divided per student because they have less students. Oak Forest receives $3,659,859.74 or $4,847.90 per student. Jefferson receives $2,892,607.47 or $5,509.40 per student. Oak Forest has 755 to Jefferson's 525 students. Still, that's $767,252 more for Oak Forest, taking away the per student formula. That's a lot of money!

I called HISD to ask them for clarification and the answer that I received from two different people was very interesting. They told me that the reason that there isn't any information on the HISD site regarding how money is allocated to each school was because it was "too complicated." I wondered how complicated it could be. When I used the calculator on the Texas Watchdog site I figured it was pretty clear and it shows how much each school gets for different categories like resource student funding, magnet programs, and stimulus, to name a few.

Just for the record this is what HISD had to say about where the funding comes from.

"The school funding formula is complicated, but it basically works like this: Schools are funded based on a per-student basis. The more students you have, the more funding you get. The per-student amount is weighted to give more money for students in various categories: Special education, gifted and talented, magnet, limited English skills, low income, etc. There is also a funding subsidy for the smallest schools. In some cases, smaller schools are unable to afford some of the same services that are offered at larger schools. Jefferson has 509 students, compared to Oak Forest’s 760 students. In addition, it’s important to note that in HISD, principals are given broad discretion over how to use their budgets. After consulting with their campus Site Based Decision Making Committee (which includes parents and teachers), the principal establishes a budget. They may decide that they’d rather hire an extra math teacher instead of a nurse, for example. I hope this helps."

After all of this I came to the conclusion that the biggest difference between Jefferson and Oak Forest is the amount of money that they receive from the parents and the community. It has to be that. When the kids were at Oak Forest I saw the parents donating a lot of money, raising money, and I also saw businesses, like the credit union across the street, giving them money. Businesses in the area feel that supporting the neighborhood school is good PR for them and will in turn bring them business and they are probably right.

What is the answer? I'm not sure. Jefferson doesn't have a great business community around it like Oak Forest does. Oak Forest is surrounded by shopping centers and great neighborhood businesses.
The only thing we can do as parents is to make the businesses that we do have around us aware of the needs at Jefferson Elementary if they themselves are in a position to contribute and if it will be beneficial to them. Lindale Park is not a poor community but many of the parents either send their kids to private schools or to Magnet and Vanguard schools like I did when the children were at Oak Forest. When my kids were there I donated my money to that school and that's what many parents in Lindale probably do and we forget about the school in our neighborhood because it doesn't affect us when our kids don't go there.
I may not be able to donate a lot of my time to the school, to the PTA, or a lot of money, but I can donate my voice. I can be a voice to the community about the needs at Jefferson Elementary and not just this elementary school. There are many schools like this in our city, even in the different school districts. Maybe people will become more aware of the elementary school in their community and they will take the time to donate just a little to make a difference.

1 comment:

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