Pandemic highlights inequities in education; meet a man fighting for change

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ST. LOUIS- The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light some of the inequities in the education system. Tony Neal with Educational Equity Consultants wasn’t surprised to learn about some of the issues that districts had to overcome.

Neal says one disparity that surfaced was regarding technology and students needing broadband at home.

Neal, a former principal who turned consultant, sits on a local school board. He said at the end of last school year they were fighting with the state to get additional funding so his district could have equal access for its students.

Neal has been fighting for educational equity for more than 20 years. He says wanting all students, especially those of color, to have equal opportunity and access to resources, benefits, and rewards within the education system.

Neal says that may mean making sure students are reading books that have relevance in their life. It also includes looking at hiring and retention practices, discipline, and parent engagement.

Neal’s group works with school districts across the nation. He says in the St. Louis area, there are a number of school districts that have been working on educational equity for awhile, and others that could use a little more work.

He explained that the biggest challenge he sees in schools is students not feeling like they are valued and not feeling like they have a voice. His group works with administrators, educators, and students to create positive environments.

Neal stressed more funding is needed to create a more equitable educational environment.

“Some districts are totally underfunded. When you are underfunded, that means fewer resources. We need more funding on the front line,” said Neal.

Neal explained resources and funding need to be distributed in an equitable manner, not necessarily in an equal manner.

He says if all districts were getting equal treatment, they would all be getting the same thing even if it’s not needed. He explained, equity is making sure each district or school gets what is needed to succeed.

Public school funding is largely tied to property tax, however Neal says it doesn’t have to stay that way.

“Who’s to say we can’t vote individuals in who can’t change the way schools are funded. I’ve always thought the way schools are funded isn’t fair,” said Neal.

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