Deep Center & Migrant Equity Southeast Call For Additional Education Funding For Georgia Children Living In Poverty

Georgia Senators LR: Sen. Billy Hickman (4th-R), Sen. Chuck Payne (54th-R), Sen. Mike Dugan (30th-R), Sen. Nan Orrock (36th-D) and Sen. Blake Tillery (19th - R)
Georgia Senators LR: Sen. Billy Hickman (4th-R), Sen. Chuck Payne (54th-R), Sen. Mike Dugan (30th-R), Sen. Nan Orrock (36th-D) and Sen. Blake Tillery (19th – R)

Last Friday, September 16, Migrant Equity Southeast (MESE) and Deep Center at Savannah State University called on the Georgia Senate to allocate additional educational funds to schools that serve children living in poverty. Georgia is one of only six states nationally that no longer funds these schools for education, leading to harmful inequalities. The two Savannah-based organizations spoke at the second public session of the Senate Studies Committee to Review Education Funding Mechanisms, followed by a press conference.

Georgia ranks 49th among all states and Washington DC when it comes to how low-income students perform on state tests compared to their higher-income peers. This injustice is related to the lack of additional funding for schools that help students in poverty.

Harrison Tran, a student at Savannah-Chatham County Public School who is a 10th grader at Herschel V. Jenkins High School, experienced the differences that create this achievement gap. “I’ve seen lower-income students being taught by substitute teachers when the educators left, while students in more affluent areas had permanent teachers. I went to schools with no advanced electives and only one counselor for hundreds of students. There is no way for students to get the resources they need without having more counselors in our schools.”

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This class division extends beyond the classroom.

“Teachers have to buy toilet paper and tissues because their schools don’t provide it,” said Megan Ave’Lallemant, Deep Center program manager.

The lack of adequate funding has a particular impact on migrant students. Alejandro Del Razo, a parent at Savannah Chatham County School and organizer of the MESE community, stated, “In some cases, there is a lack of bilingual staff in the classrooms and administrative offices.

My bilingual daughter had to help her classmate who was crying in frustration because she couldn’t understand anything in class.”

Deep Center and MESE are partner members of Fund Georgia’s Future, a coalition supporting fair and full funding for public schools. The coalition aims to increase per-student funding for children living in poverty by improving Georgia’s funding formula for quality basic education. The Savannah-based organizations work to ensure that these funds are distributed fairly to rural and suburban areas outside of Metro Atlanta.

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Christina Magaña, MESE’s Director of Operations and Outreach, knows what fully funded schools for immigrant students would look like. “Any school serving ESL (English as a second language) students should have enough dedicated bilingual staff on hand at all times to assist with ESL parents’ questions and concerns.”

In addition to comprehensive ESL services, Deep and MESE aim to increase funding for culturally affirmative curricula, mental health services, advanced elective programs, quality nutrition, and school renovations.

“We need funds so that schools have trained clinicians who can provide therapy services not only to students but also to teachers,” Ave’Lallemant said. “We have to take into account that we take care of everyone in the building.”

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This must be achieved by centering the voices of youth. “We are frontline advocates encouraging young people to create educational spaces where all children can grow and thrive,” said Martina Yvette, organizer of Deep’s youth community.

“I know we all believe in the importance of equity and inclusion,” added MESE CEO and co-founder Daniela Rodriguez. “But unless the system provides more funding to educate low-income migrant students in South Georgia, then the system is not truly inclusive to everyone’s needs.”

After the Senate Admissions Committee, Deep and MESE will hold a joint press conference at Savannah State University’s King Frazier Student Center to address the experiences of Savannah parents and youth who have been harmed by funding discrepancies.

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