By Helen Jeong
Edna Corona is a busy mother of three. While attending to the needs of her family, she is also closely involved in parents’ groups at Toland Way Elementary School in Eagle Rock.
Despite her busy schedule, she made a rare trip to Downtown Los Angeles Tuesday and attended the weekly board meeting of the Los Angeles Unified School District. While firmly holding her three-year-old daughter, Corona shook her nerves and stood in front of the eight board members and John Deasy, the new district superintendent.
“I am here to ask for your consideration to save the School Readiness Language Development Program,” Corona began in a shaking voice, speaking against the LAUSD Board’s decision to eliminate the program because of a $408 million budget deficit.
The School Readiness Language Development Program (SRLDP) is a free, preschool-like language program, designed to prepare students, especially those from bilingual families, to develop academic readiness skills.
Introduced by the LAUSD in the 1970s, the SRLDP program has provided educational services to children, specifically in the predominantly ethnic neighborhoods. Currently, more than 16,000 students are placed in the SRLDP in 326 schools.
But now faced the budget deficit, the LAUSD is targeting SRLDP, along with other educational services in the district, to control spending. A new plan would also include laying off more than 7,000 District employees.
Corona said, despite the financial issues, programs, like SRLDP, must be retained. Especially for those from working class families, the state-funded service grants children access to quality education without costing an arm and a leg.
“Kindergarten is very hard for kids who didn’t have preschool. And many parents, like me, cannot afford to send our kids to private preschool in our community,” she said.
Having seen her second child transitioning well to Kindergarten from her SRLDP class at Toland Elementary, Corona is worried that her youngest child, who would have been eligible to enter the program in the next school year, would not get the same opportunities.
“It’s a great foundation for kids. My second child is in kindergarten right now. She went through the SRLDP last year. She’s doing so great. I know it’s all thanks to the SRLDP program. I know how essential it has been for her.
Lyne Avignone, teacher at Toland Way Elementary, agreed with Corona and said she is “devastated” that the program could disappear.
“It is just awful. Having this [SRLDP] go away is going to awful,” Avignone said.
As a teacher for the SRLDP class for more than two decades, she said she couldn’t believe her school has lost the program.
“This is the best program out there. Studies have shown that children who have gone through SRLDP have a much lower rate of high school drop out and a high rate of going to college and being much more successful.”
She also said SRLDP is beneficial for parents. As children spend two and half hours Monday through Thursday in the class, parents are often asked to volunteer to help out in the classroom or required to come in to learn to interact with children. Parents’ involvement helps children to interact with other students/parents and creates a sense of community at school.
“It takes a village to raise a child. And now they’re trying to take away the village,” Avignone said.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal has called for asking voters to temporarily extend high rates for vehicle, sales and income taxes. If the tax increase measures ends up on a June ballot and passes, it could save the state’s funding for the LAUSD as its deficit could possible go down from $400 million to $225 million. But a similar ballot measure failed in May 2009.
The LAUSD board appears to be admitting that they have no control over the next year’s budget, faulting the state government for the possibilities of losing special education programs.
In an email to Corona, the outgoing superintendent, Ramon Cortines, told her to “direct her anger toward the State instead of the LAUSD Board of Education,” adding that other school districts are also losing money.
“If there is no money to support it, there simply is no way to continue,” Cortines said.
The uncertainty of retaining special programs like SRLDP is also unsettling for school administrators like Principal Raul Fernandez of Toland Way Elementary.
“We usually get our categorical budgets and submit it to the district right about now. But given that the budget could change after the June election, it’s hard to plan. I ask myself, ‘What would it look like?’ But I don’t like that uncertainty,” Fernandez said.
As the LAUSD decided to cut the program, Corona will not be able to enter her youngest child into the program next year.
“It’s sad, but I will try to get her into a different public program like the state kindergarten.”
As she is organizing a group of parents, passing out flyers, emailing lawmakers and LAUSD board members, Corona pleaded the decision makers to “consider the children.”
“They need to see that the children are the future of our communities and our country,” she said.
“Without the program, our children will not be able to have a good foundation for their education. In a long run, it’s not good for their country.”