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Two Americas: How systemic racism through property taxes impacts education

Two Americas: How systemic racism through property taxes impacts education
Posted at 12:37 PM, Nov 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-30 15:12:04-05

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Every morning in the heart of Korea Town in Los Angeles, families drive by UCLA Community School to pick up food.

“I have kids and this food helps us out a lot,” L.A. parent Eddie Lopez said.

Principal Leyda Garcia says the structure of the K-12 school is designed to support families.

“Schools are so central and integral to young people’s lives and trajectories," Principal Garcia said. "So whether it’s having social workers, or access to a legal clinic like we do, or medical or counseling, it’s just this idea that the community is responding to the needs of the whole child.”

Supporting families at UCLA Community School is essential to the success of its students because many of them are living in poverty.

“We have about a thousand students, and we are 80 to 85% Latinx, about 95% of our students are on free and reduced lunch,” Garcia said.

Latinx students and other students of color feel the impacts of systemic racism through education. A lot of it has to do with the way schools are funded in the U.S. Historically, America’s schools are financed in large part through property taxes, the tax paid by owners of other homes and businesses in a community.

It’s a system that some experts say automatically puts low-income communities at a disadvantage. Dr. Bruce Fuller is a professor of education and public policy at U.C. Berkeley in California.

“In a lot of parts in this country we’re still highly dependent upon this property-tax wealth and that means poor communities have to tax themselves even more than middle-class communities, and even when they do that, they raise less revenues than middle-class communities just because these poor neighborhoods have very low wealth – both residential and commercial,” Fuller said.

Low-income communities aren’t able to supply their schools with as much tax money as more affluent communities. According to Fuller, states like California, Illinois, New York and Texas tax wealthier businesses more heavily and redistribute those dollars into lower-income school districts to help spread out the funding more evenly.

But even if schools get similar dollars from the state, UCLA Research Professor Patricia Gàndara says disparities still exist as parents and community members in wealthier neighborhoods are able to fundraise in a way that poorer parents can’t.

“In a community that doesn’t have all of those assets in the community, whatever they get from the state is it,” Gàndara said.

Some argue students who are determined enough can get a higher education and better life for themselves and their future family. However, Gàndara says that's not true.

“We’ve done studies of that and I’ve heard that too and it makes my skin crawl because I know firsthand that’s not true,” Gàndara said. “Schools that serve very low-income children often times don’t even offer the courses that are required to be able to get into college. So you can be an A student, but you didn’t take the courses that are required for admissibility to the university.”

Gàndara says Latinos are more segregated than any other group in the West. She says they’re likely to go to school with other children who also who have fewer resources and whose parents may not know how to navigate the system. Think about SAT prep and college applications. Gàndara says their test results are weak not because they’re not capable, but because they’re not afforded the same opportunities.

“Every once in a while, there’s a student who breaks out of a situation like that and ends up going to Harvard or something and everybody says ‘oh see, there’s the evidence that anyone can do it’. That is such an outlier,” Gàndara said. “As long as we segregate off the poor children and the children of color into their own schools, and the middle-class children who are more affluent into their own schools, the society as a whole doesn’t care.”

In her studies, Gàndara found that students of color who do have a more equitable future are students who are integrated with other middle-class children.

“They sat next to kids who had some privilege. And they heard about college which they would have never heard about in their own communities, and they heard about that teacher who really prepares you for it, or that class that you really need if you want to apply for college.”

Fuller says one way of integrating people of different race, ethnicity and class is through public policy.

“In California we’ve had a major initiative to build higher-density housing – apartment buildings – around transit hubs, around subway stations. These sort of simple devices in the policy world help to diversify the residents in local communities,” Fuller said.

Garcia says changing the mentality that minorities aren’t worth as much should be the first step. She says we need to create healing spaces where people feel good about who they are and understand their potential.

“Toni Morrison says one of the main functions of racism is distraction. Because you have to prove and over and over that you’re a human being, that you matter, that you’re a human being, that your language is powerful and that it means something,” Garcia said.