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New District Leaders Hope to See More Progress on AISD's School Equity Efforts

Nathan Bernier/KUT News
The Austin ISD School Board

Since former Austin school board President Gina Hinojosa vacated her seat to run for the Texas House, the district has a new President and Vice President. And with that new leadership, there could be a renewed focus on the disparities between some AISD schools.

When newly appointed school board President Kendall Pace and Vice President Paul Saldana ran for the board, they both listed equity between schools as a major issue: financial equity between wealthier and poorer neighborhoods, and equity in opportunity and inclusion within the district.

About a year ago, the board voted to move ahead with an equity self-assessment. The board also created a permanent committee focused on equity, the Oversight Committee on Excellence through Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Both Saldana and Pace say that assessment hasn’t really taken off in the way they thought it would.

“Frankly, it’s moved a little too slow to me,” says Saldana.

“So in a year, nothing really happened, at least in my opinion, right?” Pace says. “Let’s just call a spade a spade.”

The Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP), a non-profit legal group, has pushed the school district to do an equity assessment since 2012, when the group released a report that showed financial inequities between east and west Austin schools – especially when it came to fundraising. In its report, the group said the school district apportioned less funds to schools in low-income neighborhoods.

One reason for this inequitable and unfair situation is that AISD allows and supports the private subsidization of higher-income (or 'higher-equity') schools, sometimes by as much as $1,000/student more than the amount of funds that support students in lower-income (or 'lower-equity') schools. It is no wonder with this grossly unfair private subsidy that higher-income and higher-equity schools offer their students expanded educational opportunities that poorer students do not have. AISD allows this to happen, and winks its eye at it.

AISD questioned the group's report, saying that, while it "takes the issues it raises seriously, the district has many questions and concerns about its findings and methodology."

But last year, TCRP said if the district didn’t get the ball rolling on an assessment, it would file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

“I want to move forward with something, and I really want to move forward in some of some our struggling communities and I go back to: It’s got to be equity and outcomes,” Pace said. “What we have to be about is student achievement. If we’re not, then why are we here?”

At an equity committee meeting earlier this month, the district presented a draft timeline for the assessment. Pace and Saldana say the goal is to conduct one by the fall. Saldana says he’s encouraged by the timetable, but Pace isn’t so sure.

“That still feels far away,” she said.

The equity committee still needs to approve the district’s timeline before sending it to the full board for final approval. Their next committee meeting is Feb. 11. It's not clear whether they'll approve the timeline at that meeting.  

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