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KCAL Investigates: Are race, ethnicity and wealth affecting the quality of your kid's school?

KCAL Investigates: Are race, ethnicity and wealth affecting the quality of your kid's school?
KCAL Investigates: Are race, ethnicity and wealth affecting the quality of your kid's school? 09:57

In a game of sink or swim, the Fontana Steelers Water Polo Team has had its mettle tested.

Despite their pool being in shambles, they've won seven consecutive championships; the filter and heater continually fail. The 70-year-old pool doesn't even meet regulation width or depth requirements.

"I hit the floor all the time, kick the floor," said Matthew Ramirez, a junior at Fontana High School. 

"We get blisters on our hands and feet just because of our deck," said student Juliet Lopez.

The inadequate facility makes it difficult for the team to train correctly. 

"It does get a little disappointing at times for them," said Coach Lauren Fernandes.

While Fontana's concrete deck crumbles and needs millions of dollars of repairs, Grapeland Elementary, which is just three miles away, stands upon a brand-new foundation. The freshly finished project to build eight new classrooms cost $9.5 million. 

KCAL News scoured through data from across the country to find out why Grapeland Elementary could afford to spend millions to improve their school. 

According to our analysis, Fontana Unified School District could only spend $54 per student on buildings, infrastructure and facilities over the last five years while neighboring Etiwanda School District invested nearly three times as much: $1,361. These figures directly correlate to community wealth. 

In Etiwanda, only 37% of students receive federally funded lunch. In Fontana, 84% receive that service. 

The figures also correlate to race and ethnicity. While 54% of Etiwanda students are Black or Hispanic, nearly all, 92%, of Fontana students are Black or Hispanic.  

"Fontana serves mostly Hispanic, very low-income population," said USC Dean Pedro Noguera. "But, the fact that their kids go to schools that are underfunded is something we should all be outraged about."

Noguera studies educational inequities at the university. 

KCAL's analysis shows that across California, as the percentage of Black or Hispanic students rises, the amount of school funding from the state actually goes down — dramatically. According to the data, the funding drops from $263 per student to $81.

"I call it structural racism," said Noguera. "Structural racism, what it tells you it's not about the intentions of the policymakers... but because it's built into the way we have funded schools, historically, and continue to do, it perpetuates racial inequities. 

The inequities in Fontana have persisted for nearly a hundred years, with the high school having the original floor from 1927. It has warped and is ridden with nails. There are exposed cables and broken fountains. 

"There's a lot of work to be done," said Fontana Superintendent Miki Inbody. "It's about a billion dollars or more, just to do maintenance... We don't have a billion dollars."

The high cost of maintaining their old buildings results in new buildings, like the $23 million operations center in Etiwanda, are even further out of reach. 

The data shows Etiwanda spends about a third less on maintaining old buildings compared to Fontana. This plus the developer money from growth and a greater ability to pass bond measures keeps construction going at Etiwanda. 

"We're in good shape," said Etiwanda Superintendent Charlayne Sprague. 

The construction keeping them in good shape seems a world away to those walking on warped floors. 

"No, it doesn't seem fair," said Inbody. "It seems a little sad for our kids that a few miles away they're able to spend more money on improvements than we are."

Inbody added that the allocated funding isn't equitable. 

"We have separate but unequal facilities throughout this country," said Noguera. "It's disturbing. It sends a message to these children and these families and educators that work there that these children are not important." 

Noguera added that students tend to perform at a lower level in these situations. 

"They should have equal opportunity as everyone else," said Fernandes. 

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