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Experts search for better ways to fund education to bridge achievement gap

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Posted at 3:51 PM, Mar 25, 2022

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. — In America, we say that everyone is created equal, but when it comes to children, they aren't getting equal opportunities, according to experts.

"Here I am, you know, 30-some years later and, you know, my child is experiencing a lot of the same issues, so it's time for change," said Ramon Garcia, a father living in New Britain, Connecticut.

Garcia's daughter, Amaya, is a sophomore in high school.

Garcia says he can see the impacts of the achievement gap between school districts that have more, and school districts that have less.

Amaya says she sees it in the way certain students are treated in class.

"It's kind of sad that I'm uncomfortable for asking you for help when you're supposed to be already helping me," she said.

"Depending on where you are, for a number of reasons, you are going to do poorer in school than your counterpart who may live five miles down the street from you," said Subira Gordon, executive director of ConnCan, an organization determined to close the achievement gap in Connecticut.

The state has one of the largest gaps in the country, although this issue exists everywhere in the U.S.

Public schools in America are mostly funded by property taxes, meaning the amount of money schools have to spend correlates with the socio-economic status of the zip code.

New Britain is an urban district with 87% students of color. Compare that to West Hartford, a wealthy suburb, with 44% students of color. Both have a similar number of kids, but despite the fact that New Britain has 75% of their student population on free and reduced lunch and the disparities in academic performance, West Hartford spends $3,000 more per student.

The data shows that the gap holds students, mostly students of color and low income students, back.

According to a study by Columbia University, by the end of 4th grade, Black, Latino and poor students of all races are two years behind their wealthier, mostly white peers in reading and math. By 8th grade, they fall three years behind and four years behind by 12th grade.

This is a this is a complex problem that states like Kentucky, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Indiana and other states across the country are trying to fix

The impacts of the unequal funding of education reflects in different aspects of a student’s experience. It can mean lower teacher to student ratios, fewer school social workers and mental health resources, older text books and other materials.

Another issue is teachers not representing the students they teach, which can result in situations like unfair treatment of children of color in the classroom.

"That principle of white over Black has become institutionalized and passed on from one generation to the next, to the next, to the next," said Elijah Anderson, a professor of sociology at Yale University. He studies the impact of Americans of color in white spaces.

"These days it's become a political issue, you see, and people don't want to hear it, but in order to address problem, we need to educate people about these disparities and their source," he said.

He says that the stereotypes placed on students of color also contribute to the achievement gap.

"This is the burden to of black kids run into, you know, as they try to get an education and it's complicated," said Anderson.

While this issue may feel too big to take on, the members of ConnCan says change can happen.

"You can demand change. You can really fight to ensure that, if your school is not meeting the need of your child, what can you do personally, to advocate for changes that you'd like to see," said Gordon.

ConnCan is working on changing the way schools are funded. Parents and students, like Garcia and Amaya, say they will continue to stand up against the gap, and encourage everyone to use their voice.

"All kids, no matter how old, how young, what grade, minority race, whatever, we are the future of America," said Amaya.