Look and Listen: 10 Reasons Why We Can’t Afford to Cut Education Funding

(Cross posted from the White House Blog)

As you might have seen, House Republicans released their Fiscal Year 2016 budget this week — and to put it very simply, its priorities are pretty different from those in the President’s budget. The House GOP would cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires, all while slashing investments in the middle class that we know would grow the economy — particularly in job training, manufacturing, and education.

Their budget would cut funding for pre-k through 12 education by $3.1 billion. This includes a $1.2 billion cut for Title I funding — money that could fund 4,500 schools, 17,000 teachers and aides, and 1.9 million students.

Earlier this week, the President met with superintendents and other school officials from all across the country. Each of them brought at least one object — from photos to books to charts — that represented what this vital funding means to their school districts.

Every American should know exactly what disinvestment in Pre-K through 12 education would mean for school districts around the country. Listen to each of these school leaders describe the vital programs in their districts that Title I helps fund.

1. “Acceleration Academies” that provide a month’s worth of learning in one week’s time. Michael O’Neill, Chairperson of the Boston School Committee (Boston, MA)

2. A “Parent Academy” that has helped more than 3,000 parents prepare their kids to apply for college. Barbara Jenkins, Superintendent, Orange County Public Schools (Orange County, FL)

3. “Parent University” college bus tours that make college a reality for more underserved kids. Eric Gordon, Superintendent, Cleveland Metropolitan School District (Cleveland, OH)

4. A “Focus on Freshman” mentorship program that has increased graduation rates by more than 10 percent. Valeria Silva, Superintendent, ISD 625 – St. Paul Public Schools (St. Paul, MN)

5. Extended school days that result in double-digit gains in math and reading scores. Kaya Henderson, D.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction (Washington, D.C.)

6. Professional mentorship programs that connect students with professionals in cutting-edge fields. Juan Cabrera, Superintendent, El Paso Independent School District (El Paso, TX)

7. Smaller classes that provide more direct attention to students in need of support. Richard Carranza, Superintendent, San Francisco Unified School District (San Francisco, CA)

8. College and career-preparation programs that make sure students are ready to succeed. Darienne Driver, Superintendent, Milwaukee Public Schools (Milwaukee, WI)

9. Development classes that have reduced truancy issues among young black students. Jumoke Hinton, Board Member, Oakland Unified School District (Oakland, CA)

10. An after-school robotics team that competes regionally.Airick West, Board Member, Kansas City Public Schools (Kansas City, MO)

At a time when it’s more important than ever to make sure young people have the skills they need to compete in a modern economy, the House Republican budget would bring per-pupil education funding to its lowest levels since 2000.

If you don’t want to see that happen, then make sure as many people as possible know what’s at stake.

Roberto J. Rodriguez is the Deputy Assistant to the President for Education Policy.


¡Estudia, Hay Dinero! There’s Money to Study!

This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom.


First Lady Michelle Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan participate in an interview with Don Francisco of UNIVISION at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, MD, Feb. 12, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

First Lady Michelle Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan participate in an interview with Don Francisco of UNIVISION at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, MD, Feb. 12, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan sat down recently with Don Francisco, the renowned host of Univision’s longest-running TV show, Sábado Gigante, to discuss the importance of filling out the FAFSA. The message is simple: ¡Estudia, Hay Dinero! or, There’s Money to Study!

Students and parents filled a classroom at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, to hear the First Lady tell her story of achieving her dreams by going to college. The First Lady spoke of her experience as a first-generation college student whose parents offered lots of moral support and encouragement even though they had not gone to college themselves. She told the students, “I’m actually just like you. There’s no magic. It requires hard work”.

After the interview, parents and seniors gathered in the school’s computer lab to complete the FAFSA with the help of school counselors and staff from Federal Student Aid.

When talking to the students about their future goals, many were honest about their experience and even admitted that they messed up at the beginning of high school. They explained that they realized the importance of going to college because it’s key to a better future. One of those students said she wants to pursue a dream of becoming a fashion designer. She understands that in order to have a promising future, she needs to get a degree. With the support of her family and friends, she will graduate this spring and attend community college in the fall.

Both the First Lady and Secretary Duncan understand that parents may be nervous about their kids leaving home or may be apprehensive about completing the form. But they urged all the parents to encourage their kids to reach higher, to complete their educations, and to own their futures.

The Department has simplified the FAFSA, making it easier now for students and families to complete. It’s no secret that going to college is expensive, but like Secretary Duncan said, “It’s the best investment you could make.” In only twenty-five minutes a student and family can have access to the billions of dollars in federal aid the government offers towards education. It costs absolutely nothing to fill out the form, but can be the factor that helps a student achieve his or her dreams.

Remember: There’s money to study! If you or a student you know has not yet filled out the FAFSA, visit www.studentaid.gov to answer your questions and link you to the FAFSA. Congratulations to all of the students making the choice to Reach Higher!

Rahje Branch is the Reach Higher intern in the Office of the First Lady. She is a sophomore studying at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA.

Hispanic Teacher Profile, Natasha Escobar


Natasha Escobar

Spanish High School Teacher in Baltimore, MD

Natasha is a dedicated and passionate educator. She currently teaches Spanish at Paul Laurence Dunbar High in Baltimore, MD. Natasha grew up along the U.S.-Mexico border in Brownsville Texas. Although both Natasha and her parents were born and raised in the United States, her family maintained a strong sense of their heritage and culture. Natasha’s Mexican-American upbringing would later help her draw from her own experiences as a foreign language learner. It would help her to connect and reach her students who were not at all familiar with the Spanish language and the diverse cultures that share it as a mother tongue. Natasha attended the University of Texas in Brownsville, Texas and received her B.A. in History. In 2014, she received her Master’s in Educational Studies from Johns Hopkins University. She has served as a grade level team leader, a member of the instructional leadership team, and has sponsored various student clubs. Next, Natasha plans to take students out of the country for the ultimate immersion experience. Aside from teaching, Natasha really loves exploring new cuisines on different continents.

Why do you teach? I teach because that is what I have always done. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher in some capacity. Initially I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, and I would even play pretend school with my dolls. Later, I decided I wanted to be a college professor. I attended the university with that intention. One year after I graduated, I began volunteering as a tutor for high school students in DC. I had such an amazing time that I decided to apply to Teach for America and become a teacher.

What do you love about teaching? I love the creativity that is essential to teaching. I also love the spontaneity that comes with teaching. Each day is a new opportunity for both my students and I to learn and grow, both of which are difficult and messy processes. There is nothing like seeing students experience success through trial and error.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? There was a professor in college who not only inspired me, but mentored me as well. I met Dr. Kendall during my first year of college. I remember he asked me to stay after class one day and I was terrified. I thought I was in trouble or did an assignment wrong. It turns out he just wanted to get to know me better. That semester he helped me decide on my major, which also happened to be the subject he taught. He is also the person that suggested I be a college professor. He was the perfect mix of tough and warm – and I will never forget him.


Hispanic Teacher Profile, Faith Rodriguez


Faith Rodriguez

Second Grade Teacher in Thermal , CA

Faith M. Rodriguez is a 2nd grade teacher at Las Palmitas Elementary School in Thermal, CA. She has been teaching for the past 11 years within the Coachella Valley Unified School District. Faith has always been inspired by her parents to do her best and follow her dreams to become a teacher. Both her parents are Mexican immigrants who came to the states to better their family’s life. Faith received her Bachelors, teaching credential, and Masters in Education from California State University, San Bernardino. She has served as grade level lead for her school, organized National Young Readers Day, and taught summer school for Migrant students. Not only does she teach within the public school system but she also serves at her church as a Sunday school teacher. There she organizes Vacation Bible School for the community. Faith believes her experiences will help encourage her students to further their education by attending college.

Why do you teach? Ever since I could remember I’ve always wanted to become a teacher. I teach to make a difference in a child’s life. My goal is to make a child feel at home when they come to school. Our children are the future.

Growing up my parents always instilled the importance of obtaining an education. Even though my parents only spoke Spanish and struggled to help me, they always found a way to encourage me. I share my personal story every year with my class. I share it in hopes not only to inspire them, but that they dedicate themselves in striving to attain their goals.

What do you love about teaching? There’s nothing more that fulfills my heart than seeing a student’s transformation happen in my class or beyond. I’ve always reflected on the teachers that have made an impact in my life and I strive to do the same for my students.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? To this very day I can still recall my 2nd grade teacher Mr. Loomis. Mr. Loomis was an awesome teacher who always put us first. Every morning he would greet us at the door and welcome us to school. He made a connection with each of his students. He wanted to make sure we felt safe and cared for. Mr. Loomis taught me to make a connection with my students. If a student feels like you care, then they will care to do their best in school.


Hispanic Teacher Profile, Manuel Hernandez


Manuel Hernandez

Elementary School Music Teacher in Washington, D.C.

I was born in Morazán, El Salvador, a state that was heavily impacted by the Salvadorian civil war. For the same reason in 1990, my mother decided to migrate to the United States leaving me with my grandparents at only 4 years old. In 2001, my mother decided that it was time for me to travel to the U.S. When I arrived in Washington, DC, I went to school to learn English and improve my musical skills. Being the son of a mother who fed us by cleaning houses and getting paid the minimum wage, I was encouraged to keep studying and have no limits on my educational goals. Therefore; once I graduated from Bell High School with honors, I decided that I wanted to be the first one in my family in the US to go to college. In 2012 I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of the District of Columbia. That same year I started working in DC Bilingual Public Charter School (PCS) as a part-time music teacher while I was working on my M.A in early childhood education. Now I’m a full time educator at DC Bilingual PCS where I teach music from Pre-kinder 3 to 5th grade, have an 18 student school choir, and 6 students enrolled in one on one piano classes.

Why do I teach? I teach because I want a better world, a better society and better human beings. I believe that humans are like trees, their beginning is fundamental for their later life. Being an elementary educator gives me the opportunity to effectively address my students.

What do I love about teaching? I love to see children learn and be exposed to experiences that they otherwise would not be exposed to if I was not there. I love to see them have fun every time they go to my classroom. I love to see them grow physically, mentally, and  socio-emotionally year after year.

Was there a teacher that inspired me? Yes, my uncle! When my mother left, she assigned my uncle to be responsible for my education. He was the first one in my family in El Salvador to go to college. He would walk for one hour to ride the bus to go to college. He would study overnight to be the above his peers, that inspired me. I was also present when he obtained his degree in psychology. Because of him,  I knew from a very young age that going to college was not an option but a must.


Hispanic Teacher Profile, Eleonora Villegas-Reimers


Eleonora Villegas-Reimers

Associate Professor at Wheelock College in Boston

I am currently an Associate Professor at Wheelock College in Boston, where I work in the preparation of teachers, both the undergraduate and graduate levels. I joined the faculty of Wheelock College in 1988 as Assistant Professor, and was promoted to Associate Professor in 1995. In 2004, I was appointed Acting Dean of the Child and Family Studies Division after having served as the Coordinator for the Child Development and Early Childhood Program, and the Child Development Studies program since 1998. In 2006 I was appointed Dean of the School of Education and Child Life, and in 2009, I was named Chair of the Elementary Education Department. Prior to coming to Wheelock, I was a high-school teacher and an Assistant Principal in a private K-12 school in my country of origin, Venezuela. I started teaching during my first year of college; the country was in need of prepared teachers, and college students in teacher preparation programs were able to have their own classrooms. I started teaching pre-schoolers, but soon moved to teaching 7th, 8th and 12th graders. I focused on social studies and citizenship education with the younger grades, and on sociology with the seniors. After 6 years in the classroom and now with a bachelor’s degree (and a teaching license) in hand, I came to the U.S. to do my master’s and doctoral degrees in Education at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. While studying about moral education and working as a teaching fellow, I developed a passion for teaching teachers. I realized that I could contribute to the education of children quite effectively if I prepared the teachers who work with them. I love working with new college students who have dreamed all their lives of becoming teachers; I also love working with those who have been teaching in the field and come to graduate school for more education. Educating teaching candidates about how to work effectively with all children, including Latino children, immigrant children, and ELLs in particular is something I think of as a mission. I am convinced that teachers have the highest influence on children after their families.

Aside from the work I do with teachers in preparation at Wheelock, I also do other work that benefits teachers and schools: I serve as a Board member to the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, as an advisor in a number of workgroups and taskforces of the Boston Public Schools, and have worked as consultant and advisor to a number of international organizations such as UNESCO, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Board on International Comparative Studies of the National Research Council, and the Academy for Educational Development on matters related to education, teacher preparation and development, education for democracy, and values education.

Why do you teach? I teach because I believe that the best way to effect social change is by educating individuals who can think critically, solve problems, develop a sense of responsibility to get involved, and ultimately change their own lives, that of their families and their communities.

What do you love about teaching? I love engaging with students in a deep way that allows them to learn and truly understand their role as educators, community members and citizens of the world. I love seeing a student’s face when they have understood something for the first time, when they have accomplished a major goal, and when they have experienced the exhilarating moment of seeing a child learn something new, from reading for the first time, to something about their community.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? I was very lucky with ALL of my teachers; in one way or another, I have learned from all my teachers. They inspired me when I was in their classes, and they continue to inspire me to do my best so that other children can be as fortunate as I was with such caring, dedicated, knowledgeable and expert professional educators! I am grateful to all my teachers.


Tracie Sánchez, Higher Education Graduate Fellow for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Biography

10292014 - Tracie Sanchez Official Portrait 1Tracie Sánchez was born and raised in East Los Angeles, a predominantly working class Mexican community. Tracie identifies as a Reverse Transfer student, as she attended the University of California – Santa Barbara upon graduation of high school and later enrolled at Pasadena City College, where she completed her first two years of her undergraduate career. In 2010, she transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where she would major in Chicana/o studies and minor in Gender Studies, Education, and Labor and Workplace studies.

As an undergraduate, she remained involved in a number of social justice based research projects and outreach programs that address racial campus climate, retention and access among underrepresented students both at community colleges and UCLA. As a Ronald E. McNair Scholar, Tracie served as the principle investigator of a qualitative case study that examined student-centered and institutional factors affecting students’ decision to reverse transfer from public four-year institutions in California.

In June of 2014, Tracie graduated with her M.A. from the graduate department of Education and Information Studies at UCLA, with a Higher Education and Organizational Change degree. Her research interests currently include Latina/o educational pathways, intersections of race, gender, and social class in accessing college and graduate school, Latina/o reverse transfer students and overall Latina/o retention within California community colleges.

Currently as a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute –  Higher Education Graduate Fellow, Tracie seeks to enhance her knowledge of educational policy-making and the ways in which higher education research can inform policy-making decisions to ensure more Latina/o students who begin their education at community colleges can successfully transfer to elite four-year research institutions. Tracie looks forward to returning to Southern California upon completion of the CHCI Higher Education Fellowship and pursue a doctorate degree in Higher Education and continuing to serve as mentor for first-generation Latina/o students attending community colleges.


Hispanic Teacher Profile, Arlene Perez

Arlene Perez

Arlene Perez

Mathematics  Middle School Teacher in Washington, DC

Growing up in Pico Rivera, California to two Mexican immigrants, Arlene knew the true value of a great education.  She became the first in her family to graduate from college. Having been a product of the Pico Rivera public school system, she understood the struggles English Language Learners faced and the critical roles teachers play in student lives to go to college.  Arlene received her bachelors at the University of California, Santa Barbara in Political Science and Philosophy in 2011, but realized that if she wanted to pursue a career in Education Policy, she needed first-hand experience as the role of an educator. That summer, she joined Teach for America in Washington D.C. as a middle school math teacher where she taught math entirely in Spanish to an amazing group of students who came from diverse backgrounds. These students mirror her experiences as a child since they are also first generation, English Language Learners of Latino descent. Teaching math not only allowed her to see that policy has a major influence on her students’ lives, but it also gave her the opportunity to notice the positive impact a Latina role model can have on their academic success. Because she has seen the lack of Latinos in STEM education, she is continuously striving to have her students fall in love with math by leading a coding course, a robotics team, having a Parent Math Course for Spanish speaking parents, and getting her team of 7th graders ready for this winter’s DC Math Quiz Bowl. Moreover, alongside her Teach for America coach, Arlene created Teach for America’s La Familia in DC to build a community of Latino educators in the DC region and aided with the recruitment efforts in DC and in LA to increase the number of Latino applicants to Teach for America. Arlene serves on the board for Teach for America’s The Collective and Young Alumni Board. She currently teaches 7th grade Math at Oyster Adams Bilingual School in Washington D.C.

Why do you teach? When I hear the terrifying statistics about Latinos regarding high school completion rates, college graduation rates and students pursuing STEM majors, it is the fuel that drives me to teach my students every day. These statistics are not simply numbers, they represent me, they represent family members, and they represent my students. I teach because I want to make sure that my students know that I was once in their shoes and they can achieve anything their hearts desire. My students need someone who can advocate for them and show them the way to college.

What do you love about teaching? I absolutely adore my students! They are the most creative, intelligent, unique, and hilarious human beings you will ever meet. Being so far away from home, these students have become my family. I love that we share so much knowledge and culture in our classroom. They are truly the reason I teach.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? Definitely! My 5th grade teacher Mrs. Lomeli was the main reason I went into teaching because she advocated for me to exit out of a bilingual classroom (knowing I would later be tracked in middle school) and how that affected my chances of attaining AP courses by the time I would enter high school. Moreover, my high school Calculus teacher Mr. Francis is truly my role model when it comes to teaching math. He would stay at school tutoring my classmates and I until 8pm at times and truly believed in me when I didn’t. He was someone who was there for his students no matter what and always told us how we were smarter than a calculator. Because of him, I make sure to have strong relationships with my students so that they know that I will always be there for them and even till this day, I continuously remind them that they are smarter than a calculator.


Hispanic Heritage Teacher Profile, Amadis Velez


Amadis Velez

World History & Expository Writing High School Teacher in San Francisco, CA

Amadis Velez was born and raised in Berkeley, California and lives in San Francisco’s Mission District. He earned his BA in Psychology and Spanish Literature from UC Berkeley and his JD from George Washington University along with an MA in International Studies. He obtained his teaching credential from San Francisco State University, where he also serves as a mentoring teacher for aspiring teaching candidates. Amadis began his career working as a voting rights attorney at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). In 2007, Amadis found a new calling as a world history and expository writing teacher at Mission High School in San Francisco. He specializes in teaching newcomer students from all nationalities on how to navigate the complex and nuanced process of admission to an American university.  In addition to teaching, Amadis proudly serves as the faculty sponsor of the Awaken Dreamers Club that seeks equal opportunity and access for students who encounter barriers because of their immigration status. In his summers, he also worked as the co-director of Aim High at Urban Promise Academy in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, California.

Why do you teach? I teach so my students can have equal access to higher education. I teach to help my students find their own voice. I teach because I am needed as an advocate, a mentor, and an instructor.

What do you love about teaching? I relish in the direct and absolute honesty of high school students. I love working with recently arrived immigrant youth who cling to the dream of making a better life for themselves and their families. I appreciate the subtle process of building trust and respect, and then encouraging my students to reach heights they never imagined. Most of all, I love sitting behind a student when they open an offer of admission from a university and thinking “si se puede”.

Was there a teacher who inspired you? I was fortunate to have been taught history by Mr. David DeHart at Albany High School. His classes were inspirational and controversial and he demanded that I reach a higher bar. When I graduated I knew it was only a matter of time before I would follow in his footsteps. As I continue to develop my teaching practice, I am fortunate to count on the support of Mr. Robert Roth, an experienced colleague in the Mission High history department. He has taught me to juggle a multitude of responsibilities while always remaining focused on the essential and fair rigor that we must demand of all our students.


Hispanic Heritage Teacher Profile, Mari Medina

Mari Medina

Mari Medina

Spanish Immersion Teacher in Takoma Park, MD

Mari is a dedicated and passionate educator. She currently teaches in the Spanish Immersion program at Rolling Terrace Elementary school as a first grade teacher. Both of her parents are from the island of Dominican Republic. Although Mari was born and raised in the United States, her family maintained a strong sense of their heritage and culture to ensure a purposefully balance within in their home. Mari’s Dominican-American upbringing would later help her draw from her own experiences as a second language learner. It would help her to connect and reach her future students who would also face the challenge of learning a new language within the school arena. Mari attended Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, MD and received her B.A. in Elementary and Early Childhood Education. She has served as a grade level team leader, co-leader for a boys mentoring program, and a tutor for the Commonweal Foundation an after school program which provides individualized literacy instruction for students who meet financial need criteria. Even during the weekends you will find Mari working with young children mentoring for young girls ages 5-16.

What inspired you to teach? I still remember my Kindergarten teacher and it was a pleasant memory. After learning all of the colors and identifying them by sight, I was given the opportunity to go in front of the class and hold up the color flash cards for students to recall. I was now helping my fellow classmates learn the colors. That was a powerful moment! It seems simple and most children could easily allow that memory to fade, but not only did it wake up a desire within, it changed me. I believe it was at that moment that I fell in love with teaching. Unbeknownst to my teacher, and myself at the time, that moment opened up my inner desire to keep on learning. I would continue learning so that I could share my knowledge with others. This teacher had found the code to unlock a shy and apprehensive student. Ever since then, I have wanted to recreate those moments and opportunities with as much frequency as possible to anyone I came in contact with, especially little ones. Today as a first grade teacher, I look to create that moment everyday for my students. I am not necessarily looking for the exact outcome that I received but I push to foster learning opportunities that lead to “aha moments, light bulbs going off, moments where persistence pays off, and moments of accomplishments and satisfaction at the end of the day. My students engage in meaningful class discussions, partner discovery, group work, fun and sharing, I also constantly seek to foster an emotionally safe classroom. I believe in empowering and encouraging my students to return to school the next day and do it all over again.

Why teach in the immersion program? As a child I remember my mother telling me how great it was that I was learning to read, write and speak English but that it was also equally important that I read, write and speak in my native language, Spanish. In conjunction with speaking Spanish in the home, every night my mother would read the Bible to us in Spanish. We would engage in great family discussions and Q&A and boy did it pay off. Up until my senior year of college I had never heard of immersion programs. When I was presented with the opportunity to join Montgomery County Public Schools and teach in my first language, I wasted no time in accepting the challenge. As I inquired more about the program, I learned that my future students would learn the language through the content areas of math and science. A majority of my students come from homes where English is the primary language. Many families have made the intentional decision to enroll their children in the program so that they would not only acquire a new language but learn an experience and value different cultures. When I see and hear my young students searching for the words and phrases to express themselves and their feelings, I am able to emphasize and apply not only the correct strategies I have learned as an educator but exercise patience and encourage them along the way.