equity school leadership

Equity Ain’t Free Homie

If we are trying to bring about more equity in schools, we need a clear plan and resources, most of which cost money. But why don’t we have the funds and what would we actually spend it on?

No money, No money, No money!

It’s that time of the year, when we are planning for next year, looking at our budgets, and trying to figure out how to make a dollar out of 15 cents. And our Teachers are striking across the country, including right across the San Francisco bay in Oakland. Naturally, money is in our conversations and on our minds.

We are supposed to be fighting for and working towards freedom, but anyone can tell you that we don’t have enough. This is why folks are marching and stressing. Teachers should make a fair wage. And kids deserve a high quality education!

Trying to Balance my Budget

I just got my budget sheet, like every year. I get my projections of enrollment, corresponding budget, and even my centrally funded supports, based on my “need.” As a Principal, I manage a 4.5 million dollar budget, but I still feel like I am pinching pennies. (Here are a few tips on equity-based budgeting) 4.5 million bucks sounds like hella money, but we are barely getting a teacher in every room because we know that our students also deserve counseling, wellness supports, and systems of support.

At least 95% of my budget is used to fund our staff, the most powerful resource in our building. Let’s face it, it’s not cutting it. Things are improving at my school, but our numbers are still pretty flat on statewide tests and our reading proficiencies aren’t climbing fast enough. I am asking myself:

  • Do I lower class sizes or fund an additional counselor?
  • How many kids can I fit in that class?
  • What does the contract say?
  • Can we get by?
  • I need to be asking myself more critical questions:
  • What do my students deserve?
    What their needs?


    Why Isn’t there Enough Money?

    In short, greed, racism, classism, and sexism. I honestly don’t think folks with privilege and power see everyone as fully human and deserving of basic rights. If they did, they would not stand by and witness such dehumanization year after year. 

    After 15 years in education, I still don’t have the best answer of where the money went. I guess taxes and property taxes. “On June 6th, 1978, nearly two-thirds of California’s voters passed Proposition 13, reducing property tax rates on homes, businesses and farms by about 57%. Prior to Proposition 13, the property tax rate throughout California averaged a little less than 3% of market value.”

    This means the rich get to keep their money, that “they earned.” But we know that to make money, someone must be working harder for you, or better yet, you had to make “a good deal,” usually getting over on someone. Or theft. This has been going for too long. Add in centuries of exploitation of brown bodies and the poor and we see why the rich get richer. Not only did they take our money, but now they get to keep it to ensure that their schools are better than our’s. Then they work through the system that is oh so meritocratic. (That’s sarcasm)

    It’s a cold world. Where’s my blanket?

    Moreover, now citizens can donate to their school and leave everyone else behind. This means that in the same city, a school can raise hundreds of thousands of dollars and contribute to their schools efforts, but across town, parents are barely paying their bills. The colder part is that folks with money, often attend schools where there are more opportunities and creating more access and enrichment for their students. Poor folks need it more, but can’t do much to erase generational poverty (institutional racism/classism). This is the argument for more equity. Teachers and Leaders know this first hand. But, this is largely a political issue.


    Why Does Equity Cost More?

    Well, kids need more. Struggling kids need more. Students who have skill gaps and are behind in their reading need more. Kids dealing with the traumatic effects of our society need more. If we have a finite amount of money, then you can only fill so many of those gaps. Doesn’t seem fair to me.

    Then there are privileged folks who demand that their students deserve more as well. Their kids are at grade level, or advanced, or better yet “gifted” (according to classist and white supremacy norms). They push hard too, on politicians and who gets the short end of the stick? Students of color, poor students, English language learners, students with disabilities. Racial Hierarchy and the caste system stays in tack.

    Funding Across the Country

    Let’s just compare California, where I work with New York state. California funds schools at a rate of $11,495 per student whereas in New York it is $22,366. (see this spreadsheet for every state) Looks about double to me. And I know that NY is still working to address inequity, systemic racism, and their opportunity gap. There is much work to be done with our mindsets, teaching practices, and policies. But, money is a start. Worse, I can only imagine what it might be like to work in Oklahoma, where students are funded at $8,000. This is not enough.  As a response to this reality, in 2018, we saw a wave of teacher resistance, solidarity, and a demand for justice. Stan Karp and Adam Sanchez wrote about the many Teacher strikes in a great article on ReThinking Schools. Peep that.

    What Would we do with Double or Triple the Money?

    • Make school year round with built-in breaks, trips, and enrichment, so students can catch up and not experience summer slide.
    • Hire a 2nd and 3rd shift of staff, so staff only work half the day, and have the rest of the time to prep, plan, collaborate, and continue their learning. They say it takes 2-5 hours of preparation for every hour of instruction.
    • Pay for all students supplies so teachers don’t have to ask parents to contribute boxes of tissues, markers, notebooks, and hand sanitizer, let alone trips to Washington DC or Accra, Ghana.
    • Hire counselors, social workers, nurses, therapists and other health/wellness staff to promote more healing and well-being in schools.
    • Offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner for any student who needs it
    • PAY OUR AMAZING TEACHERS, enough to survive, thrive, and live in their city. Pay them enough to purchase a home, even if one has to stay at home to take care of their children. Pay them enough so they don’t have to take a second job at Trader Joes, driving for Lyft, or being a security guard. Pay them!
    • Every classroom would look like Google, Facebook, Apple, Salesforce. It would be outfitted with technology, interactive boards on walls, colorful furniture, tons of supplies, and flexible seating
    • Every classroom would have 1-2 teaching aids to support students with disabilities, students who just need a little extra attention, and help.
    • There would be lunch supervisors so security guards, counselors, and administrators can play with students or take a damn lunch.
    • There would be enough technology in every classroom, so its a tool for learning, not something that has to be reserved or managed. Throw in a tech coordinator so a teacher doesn’t have to get a meager stipend to do this on their prep period.
    • There would be onsite teaching coaches to support teachers with teaching.
    • Reading and Math Interventionists so that students cannot progress to the next grade without making gains. I’m talking rich kid elementary, homeschool type support. The kind that works.

    This is fun, I could go on and on. What would you spend more funds on? What do your kids deserve? What do they need?


    I remember a heated debate I had when I was in Admin school. We were reading some article about whether leadership or more funds make more of a difference in school transformation. Coming from a low-income home and watching many of my friends get pushed out, failed, and left behind, I knew that more was needed.

    I also had a sociopolitical context of racism, classism, and oppression. We were in an equity-focused School Leadership program, but some of the students were really arguing that schools waste money and there’s too much fat. Sure, that might happen sometimes, or maybe it happens lots of time, so leadership and support are needed TOO.

    But let’s not accept the conservative and fiscally conservative frame here. Billy don’t have bootstraps. We know our children deserve access to quality. It’s not fair, so we need to be more equitable. And equity ain’t free homie.

    We need that money. Lots of it.

    P.S. If I ever figure out how to get our money back, I’m coming for it.

    P.S.S. By any means necessary. Political, grassroots, etc.

    P.P.S.S. Better have my interest too.