Will this year mark the end of DISD’s learning centers?

This issue has reared its head from time to time since I’ve been a DISD parent, but it has always been dismissed quickly and after some race-baiting. This time, though, it looks like DISD’s disproportionate financial commitment to the learning center schools in the district might actually play out in a more public and definitive way, as the DMN’s Tawnell Hobbs details in a recent story.

We’re talking about it today because the federal government has told DISD that either the district funds all schools equally — meaning the extra funds directed to learning centers must be reduced — or the district stands to lose somewhere north of $100 million in federal subsidies.

The amount of money to be shifted from learning centers, about $18 million, may not sound like enough to become hysterical about, but apparently that amount of money at the 34 campuses — an average of $530,000 per campus, just for the sake of discussion — would result in signfiicant staff and program cuts, even though these are the specific reasons parents scramble to enroll their kids in the programs in the first place.

Some learning centers, for example, staff school-funded before- and after-school programs — what parent wouldn’t want to take advantage of free, high-quality child care? And the funding also allows additional teachers, possibly reducing class sizes or, at the very least, the ratio of students to teachers, theoretically resulting in better learning environments for kids — again, why wouldn’t a parent favor these schools over other DISD schools, given the opportunity?

The ultimate question in a large school district, though, is why any schools should be funded at a greater per-student clip. The learning center program was set in motion during DISD’s many desegregation lawsuits as a court-ordered mechanism to ensure that minority students in the district received the "hand up" (my words) the court said they needed and deserved after suffering discrimination in funding in prior years.

But now that the district is officially desegregated and free from court supervision, and now that just about every DISD school has similar student populations (upwards of 80 percent minority populations and disadvantaged students), does it really make sense to pump additional dollars to certain campuses, at the ultimate expense of others? And that’s not even taking into consideration that there doesn’t appear to be much of an academic advantage, in terms of student test scores and achievement, to the learning centers.

There will be those on the DISD school board who will fight any changes to the learning centers — Ron Price has already thrown down the guantlet, and since he’s also running for city council, he’ll probably continue to be vocal — but it seems like the time has come to equalize the spending and treat all schools equitably.

I can understand the pain parents, students and faculty accustomed to the learning center model will feel, but there’s really not a compelling reason for the centers anymore.


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