Last Friday, September 16, at Savannah State University, Migrant Equity Southeast (MESE) and Deep Center called on the Georgia Senate to provide additional education funding for schools serving children living in poverty. Georgia is one of only six states nationally that does not provide increased education funding for these schools, resulting in harmful disparities. The two Savannah-based organizations spoke at the second public meeting of the Senate Study Committee to Review Education Funding Mechanisms, followed by a press conference .
Georgia is ranked 49th among all states and Washington D.C. for how low-income students score on state tests compared to their higher-income counterparts. This inequity is connected to the lack of additional funding for schools serving students in poverty.
Harrison Tran, a Savannah-Chatham County Public School student, who attends Herschel V. Jenkins High School as a 10th grader experienced the disparities that create this achievement gap. “I saw how lower-income students were taught by substitute teachers when educators leave, while students in more affluent areas had permanent teachers. I went to schools with no advanced elective courses and just one counselor for hundreds of students. There is no possible way for students to get the resources that they need without having more counselors in our schools.”
This class divide extends beyond the classroom.
“Teachers are having to buy toilet paper and tissues because their schools don’t provide it,” said Megan Ave’Lallemant, Deep Center’s program manager.
The lack of adequate funding uniquely impacts immigrant students. Alejandro Del Razo, a Savannah Chatham County School parent and MESE Community Organizer explained: “In some cases, there is a total absence of bilingual staff in the classroom and administrative offices.
My bilingual daughter had to help her classmate who was crying with frustration because she did not understand anything in class.”
Deep Center and MESE are partner members of Fund Georgia’s Future, a coalition supporting fair and full funding in public schools. The coalition’s aim is to increase per pupil funding for children living in poverty by improving Georgia’s Quality Basic Education funding formula. The Savannah-based organizations are advocating for equitable distribution of this funding to rural and suburban areas outside of Metro Atlanta.
Christina Magaña, MESE’s Director of Operations and Outreach, knows what fully funded schools would look like for immigrant students. “Each school that serves ESL (English as a Second Language) students should have enough dedicated bilingual staff available at all times to assist with the questions and concerns of ESL parents.”
In addition to comprehensive ESL services, Deep and MESE want increased funding allocations for culturally affirming curriculum, mental health services, advanced elective programs, high-quality nutrition, and school renovations.
“We need funding for schools to have trained clinicians who can provide therapy services not just to students but to teachers,” said Ave’Lallemant. “We need to take into account that we are caring for everyone in the building.”
This must be done by centering youth voices. “We are frontline advocates encouraging young people to build educational spaces where all children grow and thrive,” said Martina Yvette, Deep’s Youth Community Organizer.
“I know that all of us believe in the importance of equity and inclusion,” added MESE’s Executive Director and co-founder Daniela Rodriguez. “But if the system fails to allocate more funding for the education of immigrant low-income students in South Georgia, then the system is not really being inclusive for the needs of all.”
After the Senate Study Committee, Deep and MESE will have a joint press conference at the King Frazier Student Center in Savannah State University to uplift the experiences of Savannah parents and youth who have been harmed by funding disparities.