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Who Asked Us? Dear Arnold: Sign onto Education Funding Fairness

New America Media, Commentary, Askari Gonzalez Posted: Sep 29, 2009

Traduccin al espaol

Editors Note: Assembly Bill 8 is a school finance restructuring bill authored by Assemblymember Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica). The bill would create a working group to examine new formulas for distributing state money to school districts. The group would then make recommendations for a more equitable and transparent budget by December 2010. Further legislation would be needed to implement the bill. The working group would use minimal state resources and receive a majority of its funding from the private sector. AB 8 is co-sponsored by Assembly member Cameron Smyth (R-Ventura) and state senators Gloria Romero (D-East LA) and Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley). The Campaign for Quality Education, a statewide coalition of students, parents, and advocates, has worked on AB8 since its inception. AB8 has passed through both houses and is awaiting the governor's signature.

Askari Gonzalez, 16, is a junior at Overfelt High School in San Jose, Calif. He is chapter vice-president of Californians for Justice, a statewide, grassroots organization working for racial justice in California public schools. He can be reached at askarigonzalez@gmail.com.

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger,

When is the last time you talked to a public school student?

And I dont mean one of those meet-and-greet, dog-and-pony shows. I mean, you know, really talked to one of us, like inviting us over to your office in Sacramento or going to lunch at a McDonalds. To find out whats really going on in our schools and in our lives.

Well, since it seems like its been a while, I decided to write you this letter. My name is Askari Gonzalez and I am a junior at William C. Overfelt High School in East San Jose, California. Overfelt is a lot like many high schools in California. The students and teachers do the best with what they have. It is mostly Latino. Two-thirds are considered low-income and almost one-third is learning English. Only 2 percent of our 1,600 students go on to a University of California campus.

I plan on being in that 2 percent, though I think it is sadly much too low). I want to attend UC Santa Cruz and study English and creative writing. And when I graduate, Im sure youll be glad to know, I want to return to Overfelt as a teacher.

For the last year, I have been working to improve my school and schools across California. And Im not just talking about picking up trash or painting over graffiti. I mean, really change our schools. As a member of Californians for Justice, I am the vice-president of my schools chapter. In the last year, Ive organized town hall meetings in San Jose, led our Summer Youth Leadership Academy, and made legislative visits to many members of the California legislature. All before I turned 16!

I do this work because I want my school and other schools like mine to change. Specifically, I want my school to offer more than seven AP classes. I want more than five school counselors. I want all my teachers to have full teaching credential. (Currently 18 percent do not). At school, I hear my classmates talk about their dreams all the time, but without the right resources, Im afraid theyll just be empty wishes.

Thats why Im writing to you, Governor. In a 2007 address, you said, We must invest in education. But it is not just how much money we spend, but it is how we spend it we must build not only structures, but accountability and transparency into our education system.

I know youre a busy person with a lot on your plate. Thats why I want to point out Assembly Bill 8 to you. AB8 helps to do some of those things you mentioned in your speech. It would help make the education budget more understandable so that we can track how our money is being spent.

Californians for Justice and I have been working on this bill with Assemblymember Julia Brownley and the Campaign for Quality Education for months. Im not just studying U.S. Government in school; Im actually taking part in it.

I know its been a rough seven years. Youve won some and youve lost some. But before you leave office, it would be amazing to leave a strong foundation for California schools. Good schools are the key to Californias success. You said it so well yourself in 2005: We need to find big solutions for our Education system, because nowhere are the stakes higher than giving a quality education to our kids. Our future depends on it.

Here in East San Jose, Im doing my best and taking on of my responsibilities. I go to school and get good grades. Im in the Honor Society. I take care of my three younger siblings. I work and volunteer. I dont ask for much. But this time, I need to ask you for something.

Im asking you to support Assembly Bill 8, which would help create transparency in the education budget and ensure that after graduation, all students are prepared for college and careers no matter where they live or what their economic, racial, or ethnic background may be.

On behalf of the six million students in Californias public schools, two-thirds of whom are immigrant students, low-income students, and students of color, will you and the State of California meet us half way?

Thanks for listening,

Askari Gonzalez, 16

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