Public schools in the United States, and their all-inclusive admissions, are foundational to the health of our democracy. In a relatively wealthy and left-leaning community like we have in the west San Gabriel Valley, we should have a diverse public school district.
By Pablo Miralles
But that is not the case. It’s a shame. Our PUSD schools are better now than they have probably ever been, offering cutting-edge educational programs, nationally recognized teachers, and graduates, often with full ride scholarships, attending top universities around the state and country.
My neighborhood elementary school in 1971-1973 in west Altadena was Franklin. Prior to the 1970 desegregation order that integrated the PUSD, Franklin was almost entirely children of color. From 1970 to late 80s (over 15 years), Franklin’s playground where I played kickball was filled with Black, White, Asian, and Latino children. But that diversity stopped with the end of the court order. When Franklin was closed in 2019, it had returned to its pre-busing segregated state, even as the neighborhood around had seen more white and privileged families move in.
With higher housing costs and lower birth rates some PUSD schools had to close. But schools opening in west Altadena are charter schools, often run by L.A. County, with a curated enrollment advertised as “diverse,” and somehow able to avoid many foster, special education, and homeless children, who were always welcome at Franklin. The same populations have historically been turned away at the area’s elite private schools.
Civic leaders and private schools
In 2022 neither Pasadena’s Mayor nor any current member of the Pasadena City Council, who tout their PUSD roots, have children in the PUSD.
These civic leaders show up to public school events, but their children attend private schools.
These private schools boast of their Equity, Inclusion and Diversity programs, but that rings as true as Exxon Mobil advertising its role in fighting global warming.
Nationwide, the average public school district has 90% of the school age children attending.
In the PUSD 49% of children do not attend PUSD. How many of those families opting out of their local schools have even visited them?
Thanks to better state funding, the PUSD is offering more specialized educational options such as dual language and a nationally recognized math academy than ever before.
“But, I pay my taxes”
You might say, “But, I pay my taxes” or “‘Who cares if my child doesn’t attend the local public school? School funding in California is not based solely on local taxes.
To make it more equitable, the state gives each school funding based on attendance. Public schools are obligated to educate special needs children regardless of expense, which is good. But the costs are not always covered by the state leaving less of the school’s discretionary spending available to the general population. So when a general education student leaves the public school, that they are zoned for, it receives fewer resources, basically stealing from the children left behind. Those left-behind children are predominantly black and brown children, and there you have re-segregation.
What about test scores?
You might ask “But what about the test scores?” Simply put, a school’s low test score is not a measure of the quality of the education being provided, but instead a description of the lack of socio-economic diversity enrolled at a school. This over-reliance on test scores allows schools to be labeled “bad” or “good” giving otherwise liberal families an excuse to avoid low scoring schools, exacerbating segregation.
Few of my self-identifying liberal neighbors would consider themselves “segregationist.” They see nothing wrong with doing everything in their power to send their children to what they perceive to be “better” schools. But someone has to point out that what they are doing is fragmenting us and preventing us from being a truly equitable, inclusive, and diverse community.
There will be a Community Conversation on School Choice for new or soon to be families in NW Pasadena and Altadena, June 25th at 10:00 am. Perry’s Joint – 2051 Lincoln Ave, Pasadena, CA 91103.
Pablo Miralles is the award-winning filmmaker behind “Can We All Get Along? The Segregation of John Muir High School,” coming to PBS this Fall. His son attends Eliot Arts Magnet Academy Middle School in Altadena.
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