August - Education Inequality


August – Education Inequality

Education in Judaism

Education has always been an integral and important aspect in Jewish life and Reform Judaism. Jewish people have been major supporters of public education, with Maimonides writing "any city that does not have a school in it shall be cut off [all contact] until they find a teacher for the children" (Hilchot Talmud Torah 2:1). The educational principles found in the Torah have directly influenced our public education system today, including class size, compulsory teaching, school attendance, teacher-student relationships, and age of schooling (Jewish Virtual Library).

The Reform Movement’s policy on education (passed in 2004) by the Central Conference of American Rabbi’s (CCAR) states that "our commitment to providing all children with a high quality, appropriate public school education and working to help close the achievement gap by advocating for increased funding for education, reduced class size, qualified teachers and administrators, modernized school facilities, dropout prevention programs, services for pregnant and parenting students, after-school programs, delinquency prevention programs, school safety programs, and increased parental involvement" .

As Jews, we have an obligation to support our public schools and make sure our communities are equipped with quality and equal education for all.

School Finance in the United States (and Texas)

Educational inequality is the unequal distribution of academic resources, including school funding, qualified and experienced teachers, books, and technologies to socially excluded communities. These communities tend to be historically disadvantaged and oppressed. These marginalized groups are also denied access to schools with abundant resources. Inequality leads to major differences in the educational success or efficiency of these individuals and ultimately suppresses social and economic mobility (Wikipedia). According to the Education Law Center, school funding levels vary drastically along school-district lines, which are generally dictated by local property taxes. This allows for instances where children from wealthy homes in wealthy districts acquire not only more funding, but more educational resources than children from poorer districts do (Education at a Glance). Many times, these educational disparities relate to racial or ethnic communities.

In 2013, the federal government contributes roughly 14% of money to school districts, making education policy vary across different state lines. In the South, many states have inadequate or stagnant sources of school funding. Texas is no different, with (until recently) the last push for school finance reform being the 1980’s. However, with the latest legislative session over, we saw a change in Texas school finance reform. House Bill 3 or HB3, allowed for $11.6 billion dollars to be devoted to lowering Texas property tax bills and in new public education spending. This new bill gives 20% increase on student-base funding, gives raises to teachers, fund pre-K for eligible children for free, and reduce “Robin Hood”, which is Texas’ recapture program. Additionally, HB3 also gives money for districts that want to start merit-based pay and incentive programs.  HB3 was advocated on behalf of the Religious Action Center of Texas (RACTX) and Temple Beth-El.


  • Film:
    • Waiting for Superman (2010)
      • This film by director Davis Guggenheim investigates the public school system in the United States, and uncovers the many ways in which education in America has declined.
    • American Promise (2013)
      • Filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson follow their son and his best friend through the U.S. educational system. Though both boys start out at the prestigious Dalton School, circumstances later force one into a public high school.
    • American Teacher (2011)
      • Interviews with policy advisers and an examination of the experiences of four teachers illustrate the state of the U.S. educational system.
    • Starving the Beast (2016)
      • An exploration into the philosophy and the players behind the recent push to cut state support for higher education.
    • Race to Nowhere (2009)
      • Filmmakers examine the stress placed on today's young students in terms of competitiveness and overscheduling.
    • The Lottery (2010)
      • This documentary, directed by Madeleine Sackler, shows the tough choices that face inner-city parents regarding their children's education. With public schools, especially in poor areas, often failing to effectively educate children, many parents have turned to charter schools.
    • Most Likely to Succeed (2015)
      • “The film follows students into the classrooms of High Tech High, a public charter school in San Diego, California. The film combines commentary by a variety of people and follows two groups of ninth graders over the course of a year. The director's experiences with his daughter's school shape the opening to the film and inform his approach to the content and pedagogy of High Tech High. The film takes a closer look at the experiences of several individual students enrolled at the school.”
    • The Revisionaries (2012)
      • Certain creationist members of the Texas State Board of Education try to push forward their agenda by revising school textbooks to reflect their religious views.
  • ELITalks: (Allows individuals and organizations to cultivate, transmit, and curate Jewish ideas and thoughts through digital conversations.)  
  • TED Talks:
  • Books:
    • “Framing Equal Opportunity: Law and the Politics of School Finance Reform” by Michael Paris
      • In the struggle to ensure that schools receive their fair share of financial and educational resources, reformers translate policy goals into legal claims in a number of different ways.
    • “Texas School Finance Reform: An IDRA Perspective” by Dr. Jose A. Cardenas
      • “More than a 28-year history, this book provides a blueprint for persons interested in bringing about future reform in schools and other social institutions. Beginning with a description of the Texas system in 1950, the account covers court cases, legislation, and advocacy efforts and concludes with the status and future of school finance reform.”
    • “Educational Inequality and School Finance” by Bruce D. Baker
      • “This book offers a comprehensive examination of how US public schools receive and spend money.”
    • “Schooling in Capitalist America” by Samuel Bowels
      • “Widely considered a groundbreaking work in sociology of education it argues the "correspondence principle" explains how the internal organization of schools corresponds to the internal organization of the capitalist workforce in its structures, norms, and values.”
    • “Miseducation: Inequality, Education, and the Working Class” by Diane Reay
      • “Drawing on over 500 interviews, the book, part of the 21st Century Standpoints series published in association with the British Sociological Association, includes rich, vivid stories from working class children and young people.”
    • “Keeping Track” by Jeanie Oakes
      • “Attempts to understand the influence on American education, this provocative, carefully documented work shows how tracking - the system of grouping students for instruction on the basis of ability - reflects the class and racial inequalities of American society and helps to perpetuate them.”
    • “Savage Inequalities” by Jonathan Kozol
      • “Discusses the disparities in education between schools of different classes and races. It is based on his observations of various classrooms in the public school systems of East St. Louis, Chicago, New York City, Camden, Cincinnati, and Washington D.C.”


  • Locally:
    • Support
    • Get Involved:
      • Religious Action Center – Texas (RAC-TX)
        • Get involved with Temple Beth-El and RAC-TX! We are apart of a statewide network of Reform congregations who advocate on behalf of social justice issues. Earlier this year, we took on school finance reform as our main issue, advocated at the State Capitol, and helped support HB3 (House Bill 3). Want to get involved? Contact Rabbi Yergin or Ross Halfant for details. Read more about RAC-TX’s work here.
      • Agnes Cotton Elementary
        • Become a mentor to a student at Agnes Cotton Elementary today. Temple Beth-El is lucky enough to partner with this school, and to help change the lives of students every year.
      • Thomas Edison High School
        • As Temple Beth-El’s adopted school, we are here to support and aid Edison High School in many different needs. For more details contact Geri Gregory.
    • Events
      • Join us on August 20th at 7:00 PM, at Temple Beth-El, for a ‘Desserts & Dialogue’ Discussion with Texas State Representative Diego Bernal, author of House Bill 3 (school finance reform bill). Representative Bernal is Vice Chair of the House Public Education Committee.
  • Prayer/Spirituality

Stay Informed: