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The following letter is a follow-up response to an original email written by a reader, Dale Hardeman, a former school board member in Orange County, after reading an article in defense of affirmative action by Dr. Pedro Noguera.
Thank you for your response to my e-mail. I am very pleased at theopportunity of such dialogue.
You proffer the view that "...even when overt forms of discrimination are eliminated...poor children and rich children are not provided anything close to an equal education." However, you fail to identify how such a disparity may arise.
As a former school board member, I learned that one of the consequences of Proposition 13, passed by California voters in 1978, was that all ad valorem property taxes, once collected by local school districts based on the value of local real property and allocated to the local schools based on those property values, were thereafter collected by the counties and forwarded directly to the California Legislature for redistribution in amounts throughout the state on an equal per student basis. The formula developed by the legislature is commonly known as Average Daily Attendance (ADA).
This redistribution of ad valorem taxes, forwarded by the Legislature to individual school districts on a per student basis, effectively eliminated the disparity of funding between poor and affluent school districts. No longer could Beverly Hills provide $4,500 per student per year while Montebello Unified School District, which is predominantly Latino, provide a mere $2,400 per student.
Under the present ADA formula, school districts are provided the same amount of money per student according to the number of hours attended byeach student. Districts with high enrollments, be they poor or affluent, receive more funds than do schools with fewer students. Thus, there is no longer a funding disparity between K-12 & Community College districts in California.
Additionally, capital improvements, e.g., buildings, equipment, etc., are allocated to school districts according to depreciation schedules submitted by the districts themselves. Consequently, funds are distributed to districts with the oldest assets, many of which are inner city districts.
I fail to understand, therefore, how school districts funded by the state may be classifed as "richer" or "poorer" in light of the 1978 property tax redistribution plan enacted by the Legislature.
Perhaps you are inferring to the disparity in economic benefits provided by more affluent parents which may not be available to lower income families. If that is the case, affirmative action remains an inappropriate vehicle to address this disparity since it is rooted in race, sex and gender, not economic, preferences.
The answer, I believe, may be found in the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Bakke v. California Board of Regents wherein the Court held that while overt preferences based solely on race or gender in determining eligibility for enrollment in state funded schools is unconstitional except where applied as a remedy for past state sponsored discrimination, it is perfectly constitutional to provide enrollment preferences to persons who have demonstrated economic disadvantage; race and gender may be considered if they are not the only criteria.
Dr. Noguera, I am not opposed to taking firm governmental action to eliminate the economic disparity that exists in American society. Indeed, I believe that government's and private industry's historic failure to do so has unnecessarily exacerbated social unrest and ethnic alienation.
Few things foment more anger, bitterness and dispair than where one's intense hunger for success drives one into doors of opportunity which appear to be nailed shut. Doors of opportunity should not, however, be open merely because of one's race, gender or sexual preference. On the contrary, where state sponsored discrimination is not found, these doors should be opened by either of two ways: where one has proven his or her ability to meet the necessary standard (merit), or where one demonstrates a minimum level of ability, but has suffered substantial economic hardship beyond his or her control which has precluded gaining sufficient academic or vocational skills; what I call "Merit Plus", for lack of a better term.
Affirmative action cannot be defended as a viable instrument for achieving social and economic justice because it was created to provide a remedy for past government sponsored discrimination. I suggest that we take lead of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Bakke decision, and compel, not merely encourage, institutions of higher learning to set aside a minimum number of enrollments for the economically deprived, regardless of race or gender, who meet certain standards. Private industry should be encouraged to do the same. This, I believe, will open wide the doors to higher education which both of us seek, but will also help close the gaps between the varied ethnic groups in our socieity.
I believe that you and I seek the same result; we merely differ as to the vehicle to achieve it.
Thank you for your time.