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Dollars to equalize opportunities a civil rights issue, Holbrook district leader says


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  • Lisa Irish/Arizona Education News Service

Dr. Robbie Koerperich, Superintendent Of Holbrook Unified School District. Photo Courtesy Holbrook Unified School District

Two bills before the Arizona Legislature seek to strip a funding source from 19 Arizona school districts that have been utilizing the locally generated dollars to equalize opportunities and services for minority students for 25 years.

While several of the state’s largest districts would be impacted by the elimination of desegregation funding, so too would smaller, rural districts, including the 2,060-student Holbrook Unified School District, which stands to lose $2.5 million over the next five years. Located about 25 miles south of the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona, the district’s enrollment is 65 percent Native American and 12 percent Hispanic.

Dollars to equalize opportunities a civil rights issue, Holbrook district leader says RobbieKoerperichOriginalPortrait1

Dr. Robbie Koerperich, superintendent of Holbrook Unified School District. Photo courtesy Holbrook Unified School District

The district’s superintendent, Dr. Robbie Koerperich, says desegregation funding, which comes from local property taxes, is an education and civil rights matter that impacts students, not a tax issue.

“Education may be the single most important civil rights issue in America today,” Koerperich said.

Holbrook began receiving desegregation funding 25 years ago after an Office of Civil Rights investigation concerning the identification and services provided for language minority students, Koerperich said. It identified the need for equalized opportunities and services for the district’s minority students.

To assist with the additional responsibilities and obligations of better identifying language minority students and developing their academic skills, the district generates local property tax revenue to ensure it closes the achievement gap so they may be prepared to graduate, Koerperich said.

That funding is critical to the district in helping these students succeed, and Holbrook’s graduation rates show it’s working, Koerperich said.

“Our Native American student graduation rate is at 86 percent, while the state average Native American graduate rate is at 66 percent,” Koerperich said. “In addition, our Hispanic student graduation rate is 91 percent, compared to the state average of 72 percent. Both of these populations are directly linked to our language minority population.”

Q: Why is desegregation funding important for students in your district?

A: Desegregation funding is vital to our district.

This specific funding provides additional assistance that our students need to close the achievement gap and propel them into college- and career-ready students.

Click here for related story: Lawmakers aim cuts at funding for a quarter million students

Holbrook Unified School District #3’s population is comprised of 65 percent Native American and 12 percent Hispanic students.

Small class sizes, especially in elementary school and English and math courses, allows students individualized and small group instruction which gives our language minority students the opportunity to be successful in learning academic language, speaking skills, writing skills and reading skills; as well as, math, science and other academic skills.

In addition, the integration of technology helps with learning experiences in which students are able to use language skills to develop the skills to succeed in both college preparation; as well as, workforce readiness.

Our graduation rates, ELL proficiency rates, and state test scores have elevated us to a B-rated school district.
Much of the opportunity to reach this goal is centered upon the opportunities presented through desegregation funding.

Q: How do students in your district benefit from desegregation funding?

A: It is clearly written in HUSD #3’s OCR letter that “There are no Federal requirements specifying how a recipient is to provide special language assistance to language minority students. In providing educational services to language minority students, recipients may use any method or program that has proven successful, or may implement any sound educational program that promises to be successful. They are expected to carry out their programs, evaluate the results to make sure the programs are working as anticipated, and modify programs that do not meet those expectations.”

HUSD utilizes our desegregation funds to implement best practices for language minority students. Those strategies include class size reduction through hiring additional teachers, aides and a parent liaison to help communicate with families of language minority students.

In addition, we have implemented classroom technology through the sound amplification systems, smartboards, iPads, and laptops that better assist in developing the language skills amongst our students.

Finally, we are able to provide professional development for our teachers that focuses on best practices to close the achievement gap amongst our language minority students.

In addition, we are able to better identify language minority students; as well as, provide communication between school and home through our parental communication systems.

These strategies are associated with reoccurring costs that are annual expenditures. The strategies HUSD #3 has chosen have produced an enormous return on the local investment by our community.

Q: What would the cuts to desegregation funding proposed by Arizona legislators do to students in your district?

A: HB 2401 and SB 1125 would reduce our district’s budget capacity $2.5 million over five years.
These cuts would dramatically impact our services to language minority students including:

• There are 26 full time teaching positions that are funded through desegregation funding
• In a time when we need to accelerate the use of technology in schools, we would have to reduce our technology in our schools
• Class sizes will increase from 22-25 to over 30 students in most classrooms
• Language minority students would not receive the same services that they are currently receiving due to the lack of resources that have been implemented effectively over the past 25 plus years!
• The unknowns would be the greatest variables such as test scores and graduate rates that would inevitably be impacted through the reductions, and based on the research-based practices that would be reduced, we could anticipate that fewer students would be college and career ready coming out of our education system.

If HB 2401 or SB 1125 succeeds it will impact the students of protected classes in our school systems.

Each desegregation district has varying circumstances based on their desegregation letter from the Office of Civil Rights; however, the core issue is that these letters are based upon findings that have identified the need for equalized opportunities and services for students in a protected class (minority students). Without these funds, the programs and services do not exist.