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Spring 2004
Diversity, Economics and Education
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IN SANTA MONICA, where cool ocean breezes rustle the palm trees and wash over expensive real estate, the school district in 2001-'02 spent $8,035 per student per year, according to the California Department of Education. That's nearly 15.5 percent above the state average for similarly sized districts. Thirty-two miles to the east, in the smoggy, industrial, working-class, largely Hispanic neighborhood of Pico Rivera, the same-sized El Rancho Unified School District (with about two-and-a-half times as many EL students as Santa Monica) spent $6,528 per student, a little more than 6 percent below the state average. Between the two districts, there's a disparity of nearly 22 percent in the amount they spend on each student annually.

Both school districts also have to cope with a chronic shortage of fully credentialed teachers. But El Rancho loses out there, too; nearly 30 percent of its teachers do not have full credentials, compared with a little less than 15 percent in the Santa Monica district.

Unfortunately, the ability of schools to take advantage of their increasing diversity falls almost exclusively along economic lines. Schools in higher-income areas have a lot of advantages over schools in less-affluent communities. In most of the country, public schools are at least half-funded by local property taxes. More expensive houses and upscale businesses mean more money for schools, better resources and a greater ability to attract highly qualified teachers.

There are some exceptions. "We have made tremendous strides in attracting credentialed teachers to lower-income districts by thinking outside of the box," says Sylvia Rousseau, superintendent of LAUSD's Local District I, which works closely with the faculty of UCLA's Center X in the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies to provide highly qualified teachers to what are traditionally underserved schools.

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