By Trimmel Gomes of the Florida News Connection
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Studies, including the latest release of the KIDS COUNT Data Book by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, show students of color are more likely to live in poverty and have poor educational outcomes.
But church and civic leaders say that can change if policymakers address educational inequality.
When it comes to funding public education, Florida received a C grade for fairness by the Education Law Center because the state doesn't adjust its spending to account for high poverty areas.
Rev. Russell Meyer, executive director of the Florida Council of Churches, says he believes that, through its policies, the school system has settled on the idea that some students will do better than other students because the funding formula is set to where some students get enrichment while others get management.
"You walk into those schools and you just do a visual check, then you walk into the suburban schools and it's night and day when it comes to funding," he states.
Despite persistent achievement gaps between low-income and minority students and their peers, state education officials have touted the state's progress while receiving praise from U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for offering school choice and improving math scores in fourth and eighth grades.
Mari Corugedo, Florida state director of the League of United Latin Citizens, or LULAC, says she is worried about an overemphasis on policies that focus on school choice instead of making sure there is equity in every school.
"Public education has been undermined," she states. "A lot of our tax dollars have been derailed to other entities through the mantra of choice."
Research published by the LeRoy Collins Institute looked at enrollment trends and racial proportion changes by the state's public and charter schools and found a trend toward re-segregation in the school system.
According to the study published last year, about 32 percent of Hispanic students and 35 percent of black students in Florida attend "intensely segregated" schools, which is defined as having a nonwhite student body of 90 percent or greater.
Both Meyer and Coruguedo say current leaders and those running for office should find ways to tackle this issue before it gets worse.
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