By Citlali Hernandez, student leader with Californians for Justice.
When I was a young child, every Saturday morning, I remember getting up early in the morning to watch cartoons, especially Batman cartoons. Although people may think it’s a cliché for children to be inspired by superheroes, the feeling children get from watching people who can change the world into a better place a true emotion. I am one of those children who have been inspired by the superheroes on the screen, but also regular people doing extraordinary things. Even though I don’t have superpowers, I do have the power to speak out for my community, to tell my story as an inner city young woman of color in a public school.
On May 10th, I head out for Sacramento with students and parents from different cities and different backgrounds from all over California to fight for a better education for all students in California. I don’t want to be just another statistic on a piece of paper. I want to write my own destiny.
I’m boarding the bus to Sacramento as a part of the Campaign for Quality Education, a statewide alliance of grassroots, civil rights, policy and research organizations committed to educational equity for all communities in California’s public schools.
Like Batman, I have committed to making my voice be heard and create an impact on the people around me. Education is very important, not just because it is a part of my everyday life, but because it molds my future.
Batman is a character that fights people who commit injustices and crimes against the citizens in the city he lives in: Gotham City. Gotham City is a boiling pot of crime and chaos, and a villain, the Joker that stands in the way of justice and progress. In some ways, budget cuts have become the Joker figure in our schools, trapping students in a Gotham-like City that prevents all students from being successful. Over the past three years, California has cut over two million dollars per day from our schools, making a crisis of Gotham-sized proportions.
What inspires me the most about Batman is that he isn’t privileged with innate superpowers like the other superheroes. He wasn’t given superpowers by some weird mutation or even born with them. Although he had a lot of money to start with, he wasn’t born smart or strong. He taught himself how to effectively fight back against injustice. He dedicated his own time and will to expand his mind and to train himself physically to fight against crime so that innocent people don’t have to go through what he did-losing something or someone very close to his heart.
Low-income students and English Language Learners are the victims of injustice in our school finance system. We are not privileged with luxuries economically nor do we do grow up in safe neighborhoods. In spite of these challenges, we become the heroes of our own stories. We train our minds and bodies everyday to be able to make it through without these advantages. When I look at privilege in some schools, I can’t help but ask, why is it that some of us only have to try so little and why so many of us have to try much harder?
The time to change our school funding system is NOW. We can no longer let another Joker come on the scene and ruin the opportunity represented by the Governor’s proposal for a “weighted student formula” to give every student in California a fair shot at a good education.
I support the general idea of the Governor’s proposal for a new student funding formula, because it will direct much needed funding to students like me who live in poverty or need extra support to learn English. What I do not support in the Governor’s proposal is giving total flexibility to districts on how to spend those funds. Total flexibility has hurt students in the past because of the lack of accountability. Giving district administrators the option to spend the funding as they deem necessary does not guarantee that those funds will be spent on the students that the money is intended for, English language learners and low-income students. We simply cannot get this policy wrong. We need “targeted flexibility” to ensure that low-income and English learners will directly benefit from additional money. Let districts decided on which programs and services to spend flexible funds, but require that those services benefit the intended students. We should build-in accountability measures to make sure we see where the money is being spent.
Even though some people argue that now is not the time to pass a new Weighted Student Formula, why isn’t it? How much longer do we disadvantaged, unprivileged students have to bear being threatened by the Jokers?
We are done waiting for someone to help us and have taken it upon ourselves to become the Dark Knight of Educational Justice. Today, together with hundreds of students and parents we descend upon the State Capitol to bring justice to an inequitable school finance system that has deferred our dreams for too long. Today, we become the heroes of our own story.