Entitled to What?

The Ochoas are hardworking, taxpaying U.S. citizens who have taught their kids English. Why, they ask, should they be penalized for that?

Two years ago, Monica Ochoa received a letter saying her three-year-old daughter would be admitted to her local public school's pre-kindergarten program if there was enough room. "We bought uniforms, supplies, everything," Ochoa says.

Then just a couple weeks before the start of school, someone called to say there wasn't enough space after all. Priority was given to four-year-olds, and they'd filled up all the places.

Okay, disappointing but understandable. Ochoa operates a day care out of her Eastside home, and she could keep her daughter busy with the other kids. But she still thought public school pre-K could offer her daughter more.

So this fall, Ochoa tried again. She took her daughter's information to the neighborhood school in the Houston Independent School District. Finally, her daughter was old enough. But she was rejected again.

"This time it was because we chose English as her primary language," Ochoa said.

"Then we tried another elementary school, and they told us we made too much money," she said. So the mother of two children started writing. She says she wrote 100 letters to the school board, HISD officials, congressional representatives, anyone she could think of. She got nowhere. Congressman Al Green said she wasn't in his district and referred her to Gene Green. Gene Green said his hands were tied by state law. No one else even wrote her back, she says. She tried to talk about it to HISD Superintendent Terry Grier at a town hall meeting and, she says, he walked away from her.

Monica Ochoa speaks fluent English and Spanish, her husband Christopher only English. Their son and daughter speak both languages. The Ochoas have declared English their main language, saying it is the language of their country — both are U.S. citizens — and they want to know why they are being penalized for that declaration.

"I feel like this is so twisted. We're paying taxes to HISD and Harris County, and my children are not even able to attend school? We're law-abiding citizens, we're taxpayers, we're voters, and the opportunities that are supposed to be for everyone are denied to us," Ochoa says.

Both she and her husband are worried their daughter will be left behind. They argue that it isn't just the language skills pre-K kids pick up; it's all the socialization, learning how to operate in a structured environment, how to cut with scissors and write with a pencil — everything that will enable their daughter to keep up with her peers in future years. They've seen the advancements their son — who's two years older than their daughter — made in public school pre-K.

So Monica Ochoa decided to try again. She went to a third HISD school this fall. She put herself down as a Spanish-speaking, single mother of two children with a lower income.

She lied.

And her daughter got in.
_____________________

In 1984, a special session of the Texas Legislature authorized half-day pre-K for four-year-olds who were limited English-language speakers or economically disadvantaged, in House Bill 72. Part of the landmark education reforms enacted that year, it was designed to extend special services to kids who were often in most need — ones who would tend to fall by the wayside without early intervention.

The Texas Education Agency released guidelines for the program designed to get these kids "school ready."

Since then, the definition of students allowed in the program has been expanded to include the homeless, foster children and, most recently, military kids. As room allows, three-year-olds can attend. Local school districts, such as HISD, have sometimes supplemented with other funds and expanded to full-day.

It is, most everyone agrees, not a little thing, but a crucial part of the education process. Jason Spencer, spokesman for HISD, doesn't hesitate to say that pre-K is very important.

"We would agree that all children need to be in pre-K," Spencer said. "Unfortunately the state of Texas does not fund school districts to offer pre-K to students who don't qualify for the free program. This is why we offer an affordable tuition-based pre-K program."

The first two HISD schools Ochoa went to never mentioned the tuition option to her, she says. She found out about it from neighbors. But even then, she didn't regard this as good news.

The rub for the Ochoas is that they don't think they should have to pay $465 a month in tuition even if they could put together the money. They didn't pay it for their son, and as far as Monica can remember, she put English on his application and their income has stayed about the same for several years. She even wondered if there was some bias here working against her daughter when her son was readily accepted.

The couple, who make between $65,000 and $85,000 a year depending on Christopher's overtime at his job and how many students they have at the day care, say their money has to go for their mortgage, a car note, utilities, food and college savings for their kids. Ten years after graduating from college with a degree in interior design, Monica still is paying off her college loans. She doesn't want her kids to be encumbered in the same way.

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21 comments
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accountableformyself
accountableformyself

Way to be a role model for your kids! If you don't get what you want, just LIE and CHEAT!

I question your ability to teach your kids to not run with scissors on your own. Every minute spent away from you is probably a good thing for them.

Bdss8154
Bdss8154

I pay 1k per month for my kids and I to pay taxs. But because were not illegal's we don't get a free ride on our own tax money. Thak you all for taxing me so as to give to the cheaters.

G Bush
G Bush

who cares another Mexican looking for free ride go back to Mex if you dont like get back to where you came from and take all your wetbacks friends with you.

Sillyyellow
Sillyyellow

This is a very sad situation here--'No Child Left Behind'...I wonder how many have actually been left behind?

Momof3
Momof3

If she is operating a home day care doesn't that give her child the socialization skills she needs? Parent is another word for teacher. There is nothing that your child can learn in pre-school that you cannot teach at home. Maybe the time spent on falsifying documents and writing letters would have been better spent gathering materials to teach at home. All of my children went to Kindergarten reading and ready to learn because I made that a priority in my home. I don't think that you are entitled to send a child to preschool, especially if you are a stay at home parent with time and resources to give your child the education they need. Your not buying College textbooks, you can have everything you need for under $20.00. Educating your preschooler and preparing them for Kindergarten is your responsibility not the responsibility of the State of Texas.

Fiorello
Fiorello

Instead of pitting the middle-class against lower-class immigrants, this story ought to resonate and underscore the message of the 99%ers: it ought to unify us. As Rick Perry constantly points out, Texas is a very wealthy state. But it's wealth is clearly mismanaged if our schools have to choose between lower and middle class advancement, while giving elaborate tax breaks to the wealthiest few.

Remember the $40,000 River Oaks playhouse blog post? Paired with this story, it's iconic of what Texas (and the nation) has become. It's Indefensible and self-defeating, as our kids are shortchanged in favor of more baubles for the bogus "job creators". Middle class income shouldn't be a hurdle when the rich have been running free and easy for the past 30 years.

Scott218
Scott218

According to the income that she and her husband make, Mrs. Ochoa IS one of the 1%. Kids are not shortchanged in favor of more baubles for the bogus "job creators." If a parent pays more in school taxes, they deserve to have better schools. The problem is that parents who pay absolutely nothing into the system are taking from all of us, and the ones getting left behind are those who actually do pay. Mrs. Ochoa is seeing that finally, except for the fact that she lied. She gave the impression of being poor and non-English speaking to cheat the system. That's one of the reasons we're in the shape we're in now. If everyone cheats, everyone loses.

Sillyyellow
Sillyyellow

We give too much power to our educators! This selective stat on who can come and who can't based on income and developing a wait list is sooooooooooo ridiculous! Everyone needs an education so instead of paying many to sit up high in their offices to make decisions to corrupt our future let's put that money where I future can see the 'change'! Let's built facilities large enough to host those of the age group that is discriminated against when it comes to education---this age group is real crucial so a waiting list should'nt even exit! This family is entitled to their child being educated! I feel if it was sent to court the judge would even rule on that! Let's educate our future and NOT our DOLLARS!!!!

Bert Fitzgerld46
Bert Fitzgerld46

The system has been designed for low income for decades! The system would weather enable those who such up welfare, foodstamps and medicaid while they sit at home on the golden buns eating, drinking and watching young in the restless! Its fortunate that most Americans like this young lady wants better for her family and her child. I've worked in the educational system and many times the children that they select don't even half teh time come to school and for the most part their only selected because of government funding--their often paid to have these kids attend their facilities and educate/feed them. The school system doesn't get anything for those kids who doesn't fall in the income guidelines. So, with HISD motto;No child left behind--that's hog wash! I've seen many left behind if they don't have money written on their forehead!

roadgeek
roadgeek

Illegal aliens sucking up scarce resources that should be devoted to Americans and those here legally. Anyone who ignores this is guilty of willful ignorance.

Frosty
Frosty

Welcome to America, where American Children are discriminated against daily, illegals get preferential treatment in just about everything... Thank you Mrs Ochoa for standing up and speaking out. Illegals lie, cheat and steal from us Americans and they will continue to get away with it unless we Americans stand up and fight against the discrimination of Americans. Deport them and take our country back for our children, go fix your own country and get out of ours. We don't want you here taking from our children. They are also giving away all the college grants that were originally intended for American Children to illegal children, If you want your American Child to have a college degree you will either have to pay for it yourself or your child will have to be in debt for decades to come while illegals get the free college grants and degrees.

jim
jim

It is really pretty simple. There would be more room for this women's child if we got rid of the illegal's children.

dsprtt
dsprtt

Jesus, what a great country. How many of those kids does this woman keep who are children of illegals? Business is booming and she is very happy until she finds out they are taking something she needs and there is none left over. . I got news for her , there are hundreds of thousands of Texans who have had something they need taken from them for years, mainly their jobs. Think healthcare, wic, snap, chips and on and on. Good thing for her she has not had to stand in line anywhere else only to find out there is nothing left. I bet she still would carry the LaRaza flag even now.

Carltonja
Carltonja

First off, US citizens should not be discriminated against in our own country. It is a disgrace. Steps can and should be taken to fund education. Step one, EVERY child in public schools now should be paying a tuition. Regardless of where they are from. No exceptions, no discriination. There simply isn't enough tax money to go around. The fact that border states have to educate most of the children from other countries is stretching dollars thin.

Jason Spencer
Jason Spencer

Ms. Downing:

This article is unfair and misleading on many levels. It's also plain bad journalism. When you called me to discuss the issue, you only asked me what the rules are for enrolling a child in free pre-kindergarten. You did not ask me to respond to specific allegations. You did not ask me to respond to the assertion that the superintendent walked away from Ms. Ochoa, an allegation that I find highly questionable. We had Spanish-speaking staffers at every Community Conversation and they saw to it that every parent's question was answered, frequently staying long after the meetings had ended to make sure eveyone was served. Granted, sometimes the parents did not agree with the answers given. Had the Houston Press bothered to attend any of those public meetings, I think you would have seen that Dr. Grier and his senior staff went out of their way to accomodate everyone who sought help with a problem. In Ms. Ochoa's case, her child's situation was personally reviewed by the Chief of Staff and the Chief Elementary School Officer, who is a fluent Spanish speaker. The plain truth here is that the law is very clear when it comes to who receives free pre-kindergarten: non-English speakers and children from low-income households. This is not an HISD rule. It's a state rule. I'm perplexed as to how you, as a journalist, could twist this straight-forward situation into something scandalous. Jason SpencerHISD General Manager, Communications and Media Relations

roadgeek
roadgeek

Although the Houston Press is a liberal rag, and thus to be read with a grain of salt, I thought the article made very clear the point that HISD is adhering to a state mandate. It seems a very clear and succinct article, which leads any reasonable reader to conclude that illegal aliens and their spawn are sapping scarce resources.

The only thing that surprises me about the article is that it's in the Press. Doesn't fit the narrative, you know.

ChauncydeF
ChauncydeF

O Rodgeek...were that it was so...

a truly liberal and progressive publication wouldn't allow an adult like you to reach such an utterly simplistic conclusion: that immigrants are sapping our resources. Rather they would have tapped your sense of civic responsibility to urge a push for higher revenue contributions among the top 5% of Texas income earners. That way, both the middle class and lower class could eventually get ahead without hurting the State's overall economy. In fact, we could surpass the other states in future revenues by having a well-educated and healthy workforce.

The grain of salt you mention should be served with your black/white analysis.

Tjiocca
Tjiocca

I find it supremely ironic that anyone in HISD's public relations department would accuse anyone in the media of being misleading. You want to talk about misleading? Let's talk about the Apollo Program. HISD's lackeys at the Chronicle print op-ed after op-ed about how wonderful the program is when, in fact, it has delivered much less than promised at many of the schools. Aside from Dr. Fryer's appraisal of the Apollo Program's success (Yes, he was allowed to evaluate his own program), there has been precious little Apollo news coming from HISD. Why is that?

The local television and print media have been very kind in their coverage of HISD these past two years. The minute Mrs. Downing writes something remotely critical of HISD, Mr. Spencer accuses her of being misleading. Give me a break.

redneck
redneck

You wonder why our country is so fucked up ... shit

Oaprendiz
Oaprendiz

This mother should have taken the first steps of lying from the start--The no child left behind' act only works for those on a case by case base as mentioned in the article. HISD gives power to too many people that doesn't need it. Education shouldn't be based on color, greed, gender or even finances--it should be given to those that most appreciates it. I feel that this is an act of discrimination and should be reviewed as such. You may just have a law suit pending--look out now!

 
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