What is the destiny of EBR Public Schools? Do we know? What are we searching for in the next superintendent? Is this school board willing to prioritize equity? All questions I’ve heard over the last few months. What is clear is everyone wants something different from what we have, but what exactly does that mean? Do the voices of the constituents who most use the public school system matter? Or will it be the constituents of the majority republican body, who represent the families that least use public schools whose input is valued most? What we know is this board hasn’t always figured out how to hear the call of the people and the group that suffers most when adults can’t figure out the answers to these questions is the children. And isn’t public education suppose to be about the children?
I’m a product of public school education. The majority of my years in East Baton Rouge Parish Public School System, a district that is mostly black. A district that according to the Urban League of Louisiana struggles with inequity. The Urban League released a report in the fall of last year that details the equity gap in EBR Schools. One of the conclusions from the report was that, “Baton Rouge is home to some of the highest performing schools in the state. Yet the highest performing schools and schools that have selective admissions policies often exclude disadvantaged students and African American and Hispanic students and do not consider the disproportionate impact that policies and practices have on families with low-income, unstable housing, and transportation challenges, in addition to a number of other factors that can keep a family from being able to access high quality schools.” In seeking a superintendent wouldn’t it be prudent to ensure the next leader of public education can help us address these issues?
Our magnet application process for instance is flawed. If a parent wants to apply for their child to attend a magnet school, the family has several steps to take. Steps that would seem easy to someone with a flexible job and transportation. You can fill out the application online, but then the parent has to hand deliver proof of residency to the first choice school within 4 days of the online submission. The parent also has to take their child to the school they desire that child to attend for a test. How does a parent who rides public transportation and works a job with no flexibility accomplish this? And don’t tell me if they want their child to attend the school they will figure it out, because they shouldn’t have to figure it out — right? The process should be simple and parents should be able to walk into the current school their child attends or neighborhood school closest to their home and submit an application. Or better yet the entire process should be able to be completed online. Think about it, you can get a mortgage loan on a home easier than you can get your child accepted to an EBR magnet school, because you can do it from home. In many cases you can probably enroll your kid in college with less steps than getting into EBR’s magnet program. This seems like it is a simple thing, but it hasn’t been done yet. So we need a superintendent who can prioritize the families with the greatest difficulties, this is how we build an equitable first class public school system.
Another point in the report is that, “Economically disadvantaged students are “crowded out” of “A” schools. In February 2018, there were 6,942 students enrolled in “A” schools, 2,201 of these were economically disadvantaged (31.7 percent). If the enrollment of economically disadvantaged students were proportional to their representation in Baton Rouge public schools, 5,134 economically disadvantaged students would be enrolled in “A: school; thus 2,933 economically disadvantaged students are “crowded out.” Will the next superintendent of EBR Schools see this proportional issues as a problem and work to address it? If we are to build an equitable school system all children should be able to attend first class schools, regardless of race, income, or zip code.
Perhaps one of the most alarming portions of the Urban League report was the amount of kids eligible for TOPS in EBR. Tops short for Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, which helps send young people with a certain GPA to college in the state at no cost. The report indicates, “Of 2,388 Baton Rouge 2018 graduates, 1,195 students (50 percent) met the eligibility requirements for a TOPS scholarship: Honors Award – 263 students (11 percent); Performance Award – 226 students (9.5 percent); Opportunity Award – 411 students (17.2 percent); and Tech Award – 295 students (12.4 percent). The percentage of eligible graduates varied by school. Two schools reported over 90 percent of graduates were eligible for TOPS scholarships. These schools enrolled a majority White (58.8 percent) and non-economically disadvantaged (82.7 percent) population. African American (25.2 percent) and Hispanic (3.9 percent) students were under-represented in these schools. Four schools reported less than 25 percent of their graduates were eligible. These four schools served predominantly economically disadvantaged students and African American students. Eighty-five percent of students were economically disadvantaged; 86.6 percent were African American and 8.5 percent were Hispanic students. Only 3.2 percent of students attending these schools were White.”
What the report shows is we allow more Black and brown children to sit in poorly performing public schools, and apply our resources to the magnet schools that are both whiter and the families are higher income earners. Magnet schools have a higher rate of students who live in families that are not considered economically disadvantaged. This means there are more resources in the family to assist if the child has difficulties in school. We must hire a superintendent that prioritizes changing these statistics. I encourage you to read the full Urban League report here.
The application process for the superintended search is closed. All those who will apply have submitted their applications. Now it is up to the 9 members of the school board to decide who will lead EBR Schools. Here is what I know, the person over public education impacts that stability of our community for the next generation. When our children are better prepared for life after high school, they become productive members of society. They enter our workforce ready for the opportunities before them. A qualified workforce builds strong communities. That qualified workforce comes from good quality public schools, in every zip code, for every race. The selection of our next superintendent is possibly the most important decision being made in the first part of 2020. Let’s hope our school board members prioritize equity and get this one right. Our future depends on it.