As both a teacher in Los Angeles Unified School District and a mother of two school-aged children, I am particularly interested in negotiations between the House and the Senate on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the possibility of Title I portability making it into the final bill.

Those that support portability would allow students to transfer to higher performing, often more affluent schools outside their neighborhoods with funding following the student to their new school in such a scenario. On paper, such an idea appears to make sense. But in the real world, in real schools, moving money does little more than deplete funding from already high-need schools that use such resources to offer student and, sometimes their families, essential services they cannot afford on their own.

ADVERTISEMENT

I teach in the heart of South Los Angeles, just blocks from where Rodney King and the OJ Simpson trial enflamed citizens to the point of uprising.  The unfortunately infamous neighborhood has many struggles, but the elementary school where I work is a place full of dedicated teachers and staff.  The children I work with are bright, enthusiastic learners.  If you walked into a classroom, you’d see the colorful walls full of student art and writing samples that you would see at any school. 

Thankfully, most students are blissfully unaware of the behind-the-scenes troubles at the school, such as, not enough computers for all students or the lack of books in every classroom. They don’t even seem to notice how we have no assemblies or “extras” for them. They are used to seeing homeless sleeping at the gates of the school in the morning.  They do not seem to notice that our playground has no netting on the basketball hoops, no net on the volleyball court, and not an inch of grass.  Graffiti covered buildings and walls on their walk home are perfectly normal.  They are just kids being kids, going to school everyday. 

A mere freeway ride away, my own child goes to school at a place where parents volunteer to work with struggling students.  There are ample computers and iPads to meet the rigors of new testing requirements, and nearly all funds for those items came from parent donations and PTA fundraising.  Most students at my child’s school have internet access at home and many have tutoring after school from one of the many establishments in my neighborhood.  My son has login names memorized for more than a few web-based learning programs the school encourages parents to use at home. Almost all school supplies are bought by parents through a program that fundraises money to the school and most parents buy additional supplies for any students without.

When I go to work, I enter an entirely different world.  I have no parents that can volunteer because many work two jobs to put food on the table.  My 30 students compete for time with the one school-issued iPad in my class.  We have 6 laptops, more than any other class in the school, but the software is so outdated many programs no longer function.  There is no PTA.  School supplies must be purchased completely with Title I dollars and most teachers have no expectation that students will bring their own supplies.  e know many cannot afford it. I have worked at my school for 11 years, and I have yet to see a tutoring location anywhere near the campus.  The majority of my students have no Internet access at home.

When I switch between my two worlds, I cannot help but look at language around the House’s version of the ESEA rewrite and ask, how can anyone think portability is a good idea?  Just a few years ago, before Americans saw a budget crisis after the economic downturn of 2008, and we used Title I funds to give free tutoring to students.  We had the funds to provide after school interventions classes.  We were able to use Title I funds to hire additional teachers in impacted grade levels to lower class sizes.  With adequate funding, we are able to do great work to help out our kids. The portability clause in the Student Success Act would only further drain much needed funds from our students who need it most - schools that have a high concentration of students in poverty - and give it to schools that are much richer in resources. 

As Congress moves forward on reauthorizing ESEA, my hope is that the original intent of ESEA is taken to heart at the negotiation table.  ESEA was originally a piece of civil rights legislation meant to help level the playing field for kids in poverty, like my own students. Legislators who pen the conference bill must remember this purpose and the students who Title I is meant to aid. Portability does nothing but dilute much-needed funds to the schools and students who need it the most.


Kemmer is a 4th grade advanced studies/GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District and has served as Title I coordinator.