More PTA Spending Data and School Board Advocacy

Hi Friends!
It might finally be spring! If you’d like to accompany me to the SURJ NoVa meeting, please let me know. I’ll be speaking about our efforts in Arlington to address racism and inequity in our schools.
The Chair of the local School Board spoke at my neighborhood association meeting last week and I had the opportunity to ask her about her thoughts on how we might address inequities in our schools. I purposefully avoided providing specific examples to see what she would assume and she was very careful/political in her response (she’s also up for re-election this November). She did, however, talk about the intentional placement of particularly qualified and dedicated principals at our county schools that have lower test scores (and usually have more lower income students and more students of color), which is a good step.
This is happening at one south side school, for example, and may have actually happened because privileged white parents who live in that zone expressed concern about their children attending that school. It’s an interesting twist on the impact privileged parents can have that benefits the entire community (even if they aren’t necessarily acting with the interests of the community in mind). I followed up with her afterwards and she said that she would be interested in speaking with our group. So, I’ll see what I can do about setting something up.
I should have mentioned this last week — the Starbucks incident that led to the (completely inappropriate) arrest of two black men in Philadelphia and has (rightfully so) been getting a lot of national attention, to the point of many boycotting Starbucks altogether. This kind of situation is why those of us with privilege need to examine our own biases and start talking to encourage others like us to do the same. Karen Attiah says it well, as does Radley Balko.
Case in point — I presented a summary of the county-wide PTA grant awards last week and included some very helpful data about PTA fundraising disparities and the segregated nature of schools in our county. The presentation was received very well and yet, some who support this effort still made comments that were clearly biased and out of touch with the realities of disadvantaged families in our community.
Here’s a quick rundown of that data (PTA spending per student):
Elementary Schools: $195 north side, $92 south side
Middle Schools: $40 north side, $20 south side
High Schools: $41 north side, $15 south side
These numbers are based on 26 (out of 32) PTA budgets received from the 17–18 school year. It is relevant context that our county is significantly economically segregated, which has been true from the beginning of its development. Evidence of this is obvious in the fact that of the nine Title I schools in the County, eight of those are located on the south side.
Here’s a good article about how to discuss race and whiteness in particular with our children.
Another federal action to undermine anti-bias legislation is taking place, this time with the auto industry.
There was also an interesting conversation on Facebook in the local education group about the potential move of option schools and the benefit (and potential drawbacks) of placing option schools on the south side of the county. It was encouraging to see community members stepping up and having a useful conversation about this topic.

School Device Programs, Gun Violence, and the Opioid Epidemic

Hi Friends!
A warm welcome to our newest members, recruited from a recent Challenging Racism cohort. Thank you to one of our members for spreading the word about our group!
One of our members let me know about an event on April 26 called “Voices from Arlington: A Panel Discussion on Issues of Housing and Poverty.”
I had an interesting discussion with a friend who is focused on addressing the school district’s 1:1 device program (this is the program that provides personal Apple devices to all school district students starting in 2nd grade), which is currently under review. I asked her about equity issues since many economically disadvantaged families don’t have these kinds of devices at home already, and she said that equity issues were supposedly why the school district started the 1:1 program in the first place (which I find interesting). She also said that the health issues related to many hours of device usage are damaging enough that the policy should change to reflect research and study best practices for all students. Maryland’s General Assembly just approved a bill related to classroom screen safety, so there are some helpful examples out there. I’m going to be learning more, and I’ll keep you updated. I’d love to hear about the crossover between device access and equity if you have a perspective to add. I know that at my child’s school many families don’t have internet access at home, so that remains a barrier even when devices are available (and even wi-fi cards are not provided by the school district at adequate levels to meet the need).
I saw an opinion article in The Washington Post about how the Fair Housing Act passed in 1968 hasn’t been implemented in a way that truly addresses systemic racism in housing. I found it to be a useful rundown of how things have changed since then and how they have not.
Upcoming Meetings/Deadlines/Opportunities:
(1) SURJ NoVa April 29 meeting on Racism in the Schools. I’ll be attending and I’d love company if you’re interested.
(2) Reminder of input for Strategic Plan needed by April 19. This will significantly affect the school district’s priorities moving forward, including hiring, budget, facilities, etc. Please weigh in and give them feedback.
(3) The local School Board meeting this Thursday, April 19 will discuss the budget changes in detail, including discussion of the changes the School Board proposed to the Superintendent’s version. I am unable to attend, so please attend if you can and share back with the group.
(4) I got an update from Shaun King who co-founded Real Justice PAC (which is focusing on criminal justice and DA elections). They’re looking for people who care about injustice to get involved in local teams, no experience necessary.
Some interesting news items:
(1) Affordable housing issue in our county. If you’re interested in getting involved and speaking up to counter those who feel comfortable making this kind of comment, the next step is a meeting on April 21 with the County Board.
(2) Grappling with history — Christy Coleman is the CEO of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond and has engaged the public on the issue of slavery in many creative ways.
(3) Federal legislation regarding public schools. This has a direct impact on inequities in the ways children of color are disciplined more often and more harshly than white children.
A couple of current things to grapple with related to privilege:
(1) Gun violence has long been a problem in disadvantaged neighborhoods. It has gained particular attention lately partially because the perpetrators and victims of school shootings are white. Children of color are far more affected by gun violence and that has not received this kind of attention so far. Sarah Ruiz-Grossman lays this out well.
(2) The opioid epidemic has been treated completely differently than the drug epidemics in the 1980s because the majority of opioid addicts are white and the majority of crack addicts then were black. The response to the problem is vastly different. (from Petula Dvorak)
There’s a lot of heavy lifting out there, friends. Make sure you’re taking time away to rest and take care of yourselves. You are not alone and others are working on these issues, too.

PTA Funding Disparity and How to Impact Your School Board

Hi Friends!
I have had more responses to the small group meeting survey — thank you! It looks like weeknights are still the overwhelming preference, and Weds and Thurs evenings are also strong preferences. Between now and my next update I’ll schedule some new meeting dates. Hopefully you’ll be able to attend one!
Some quick reminders:
(1) The draft version of the school district’s Strategic Plan is available and they are seeking feedback.
(2) The Superintendent’s Budget is available for review and the School Board will be presenting their version tomorrow.
Related to the budget, and this applies to anyone in any school budgeting situation: equal cuts to all schools is not equity. Some schools need more of certain things than other schools, and giving all schools the same resources does not mean that they can serve their students at the same level of education. Please keep this in mind when reviewing any changes to school policies/budgets/etc.
In our county, there are nine Title I schools (meaning that 50% or more of the student population qualifies for free or reduced meals). Eight of those are located on the south side. PTA fundraising and spending is equally problematic. On the north side of our county, average PTA spending at elementary schools is around $130,000; on the south side it is around $54,000. This same trend holds true for middle and high schools in the county.
I hope you don’t have any doubt about the impact this disparity has on our children’s education​ and school environment. The question is how we address it. I’m hoping that by sharing these numbers with you that you can include this data in conversations you have with others about the realities schools face in our community. I will be adding more data to this research and can hopefully present it more widely and usefully, with the goal of educating and empowering our families to address it.
I heard back from a school board member about his suggestions for next steps in approaching the School Board about option schools (and integration efforts in general). He suggests that the best thing for us to do is to meet with School Board members one on one and see where they are on these issues. We don’t have to focus on options schools — I’d like to approach the others the way I did with him and see what they think about how we can address inequity among and within our schools and then go from there. If you want to help me craft some language, I’d love your suggestions. There are Open Office House every Monday evening when school is in session and the board members rotate through those days. It’s also possible to make an appointment, of course. Would anyone like to come to an appointment during the workday if I can get one?
He also had an interesting suggestion to build on what the county-wide grant fund does, but with material goods. He asked whether it would be possible for schools that have more abundant resources (wireless microphone headsets, for example) to loan those items to schools that can’t afford such things as a way of addressing an angle of inequity among our schools. I’d love your thoughts about what kinds of items might be shareable in this way and whether this might be possible.
I came across a report discussed in The Washington Post (“Tucked inside wealthy Northern Virginia are pockets of poverty, report says”) about the “Uneven Opportunity Landscape in Northern Virginia” by the Northern Virginia Health Foundation. The report has detailed sections about each of Northern Virginia’s counties.
Another report, from the Center for Social Innovation’s Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities (SPARC) “Phase One Study Findings,” (pdf) focuses on homelessness, and touches on many of the issues related to poverty and inequity in our country, particularly for people of color.
And for another article related to homelessness, the Raikes Foundation partnered with the Center for Social Innovation on a summit about the issues of homelessness and racial equity.
Stick with it!