I am writing in support of the Meals Tax. My parents risked their lives to come to this country. They had nothing when they arrived, but they worked long hours at low wages to provide my family with opportunities that are not available in other countries. We made Fairfax County our home, but because of the rhetoric surrounding the Meals Tax, we do not feel welcome here anymore.
In conversations and online comments, there is a consistent emphasis on the burden imposed by kids who are not white and wealthy. One commenter on FCPS School Board member Pat Hynes’ recent op-ed stated that “the outputs of English language learners, special education students, emotionally challenged students, and less financially advantaged students is incommensurate with the financial input” — in other words, it is supposedly a waste of money to educate immigrant kids, kids with special needs, and poor kids.
It is indisputable that our county has changed over the past 20 years — we are more diverse in every sense. According to the FCPS FY17 budget, approximately 13 percent of FCPS students are receiving special education services, about 17 percent are receiving ESOL services, and nearly 25 percent of FCPS students are eligible for free- or reduced-price meals.
I challenge opponents of the Meals Tax to view this diversity as a strength rather than a weakness. You speak about costs, but I speak about opportunities.
The world has come to Fairfax County. FCPS students come from most of the countries in the world and speak nearly 200 languages. As of September 2015, nearly 50 percent of FCPS elementary students speak a language other than English at home.
Let us build on this foundation of diversity to grow new businesses and connections with other countries, to increase exports of physical and online products and services to foreign markets, and to recruit global companies to locate in Fairfax County, where they can find employees with the linguistic skills and cultural knowledge required to succeed in the modern global economy.
But we cannot succeed if we allow the quality of our public schools to decline. As Americans, we celebrate the Horatio Alger paragon of the person who rises from nothing to achieve great success. Every kid deserves the same chance to succeed, so it follows that every kid deserves a quality education.
It is time to set aside the rhetoric, and focus on our shared values and objectives. I ask you to vote YES for the Meals Tax on Nov. 8, so we can provide our public schools with the necessary resources to get the job done — to transform a multilingual and multicultural student body into the next generation of entrepreneurs and employees, to build the future even as we cherish and celebrate the past.