Member Perspectives: CA Needs to Fund its Public Schools

January 26, 2012

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On Feb. 4, charter school parents, teachers and students from across the city will stand up and speak out at the "Schools We Can Believe In" rally in front of LA Memorial Coliseum to tell our elected officials to put students first and ensure great schools and equity for all public school students. We are featuring different perspectives from community members leading up to the rally, sharing what this event means to them. Today, we have a piece from Alison Diaz, founder of Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale.

To me one of the most critical problems facing education right now is that California is simply not funding its public schools equitably. California is currently 48th in the country in per pupil spending, and charter public schools receive less than other public schools. That is appalling.

Besides major budget cuts over the past few years, the Legislature has been deferring funds to schools - basically taking an interest-free loan from our public school system. These deferrals are incredibly painful for small charter schools like ours. While school districts can access low-interest loans called Tax Revenue Anticipation Notes (TRANs) to get them through, charter schools don't have access to these loans. Imagine having a business where you do the work and pay your employees, but the client says they won't pay you for 6-7 months!

If a bank or a business ran things this way, everyone would be outraged. All our public schools need more funding and charter schools deserve funding equity with other public schools.

However, I don't think you should just throw money at school systems that are failing. We need policies that will create a better school system across the board and support innovations that will foster a better tomorrow. Our students deserve effective, safe and inspiring schools that will help them grow into creative problem-solvers who can take on the world's challenges. There need to be more options for kids and for families because one size doesn't fit all.

I founded Environmental Charter High School because I wanted to create a school where education was authentic and relevant for kids. As a teacher, I loved seeing students go through this phenomenal learning experience. It wasn't so much about the content they were learning, but the relationships they built and how they learned to collaborate and problem solve. When my former students came back, these were the skills they said had most helped them be successful in life.

I first tried to do create this within the traditional school system, but there were lots of things that stood in my way - people were always saying no.

As a charter school leader, I get to say yes. We get to make the decision about where we spend our money and what works best for our kids.

Our teachers are our talent, working with our kids every day and they should have every support they need to do a great job. When they come to me with a great idea, big or small, from changing our class schedule or adding Saturday classes to adding special elective class, I want to say yes.

Usually, I get to say yes, but the state budget cuts are increasingly making that more difficult and it's our students who lose out.

Alison Diaz is founder of ECS, a network of K-12 charter schools in underserved communities of south Los Angeles that prepare students for 4-year colleges through a focus on experiential learning and by using the environment as a way to both engage students in project based learning and prepare them to become leaders in their communities. For more information, visit echsonline.org.

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