School Improvement League

By: Cynthia E. Orozco

Type: General Entry

Published: January 1, 1996

The School Defense League (La Liga Pro-Defensa Escolar), founded on December 14, 1934, at the International Institute in San Antonio, represented more than forty organizations seeking the improvement of school facilities. The league, headed by Eleuterio Escobar, Jr., grew out of the Committee on Playgrounds and School Facilities under Council 16 of the League of United Latin American Citizens, which Escobar chaired. Within a few months of its formation the committee had developed a coalition for school reform from seventy-three civic, social, labor, and religious groups representing 75,000 persons, and on October 24 sponsored a rally that drew 10,000, mostly women and children. This was perhaps the largest rally ever held by Mexican Americans in San Antonio. Conflict between Escobar and LULAC and between the two LULAC councils in San Antonio, combined with the San Antonio School Board's refusal to deal with LULAC, led Escobar to resign from the committee. In addition, LULAC had failed to invite a representative from the coalition to a meeting with the school board president, so the organizations affiliated with the committee seceded from the LULAC movement to found the league in December. The league's constitution, written in Spanish in 1934, dealt specifically with the education of "Mexican" children. Its officers included secretary Santiago Tafolla, Sr., vice president Rev. F. Ramos, pro-secretary Manuel Urbina, and treasurer José R. Rendón. Membership was open to any society, although only Mexican-descent groups joined; the Mexican Christian Institute was such a group. Labor organizations and sociedades mutualistas constituted a large part of the membership, and Beeville organized an affiliate. Urbina edited the league's official organ, the bilingual El Defensor de la Juventud.

The league fought against overcrowding and the use of dilapidated buildings as schools; it also argued for more teachers, cafeteria space, and playgrounds. It found only eleven schools on the West Side of San Antonio, where much of the Hispanic population lived, but twenty-eight schools elsewhere in town. It also found forty-eight students per room on the west side but only twenty-three in other sections. Finally, the league discovered that the school board allocated $24.50 per pupil to the West Side but $35.96 elsewhere. Overcrowding caused 1,000 first-graders to attend half-day classes on two shifts. To solve the problem the league recommended building five new elementary schools and a junior high school. In July 1935 the school board authorized building three elementary schools. Between 1937 and 1947, however, it did not approve the construction of a single school on the West Side. Moreover, one of the "new" schools, Lorenzo de Zavala, was the Peacock Military Academy's condemned barracks.

For an unknown reason the league apparently dissolved in 1935. It reorganized in 1947, after which it was more commonly referred to as the School Improvement League. It was reorganized with thirty Mexican-descent organizations but eventually gained the support of eighty-six groups, including the (Catholic) Archdiocesan Office for the Spanish Speaking, the Latin-American Ministerial Association, and the Wesley Community House. Labor groups played a less significant role in the new league, and women's organizations took a more important role. It is unclear to what extent the league operated as a coalition with Escobar at its head. The new board consisted of vice president Tomás Acuña, secretary A. Caballero, treasurer Katherine Arnold, and committee chairmen Rev. F. R. Ramos, Rev. Fred Vásquez, Rodolfo Gonzales, and Hector R. Parga. In an attempt to receive recognition, the group sought and obtained a state charter. Escobar now argued that the league was fighting for "Americans." Its new official organ, ABC Journal, was bilingual. The organization now focused on stopping the use of temporary wooden buildings as schools. It successfully utilized the English-language and Spanish-language press and radio, especially KCOR. In March 1949 it sponsored a "coronation" to raise funds. It also encouraged parents to stress education. The league's investigations now revealed in some cases seventy-five students in a classroom. It petitioned the school board on November 12, 1947, for six to eight new elementary schools, a junior high, a senior high, and a vocational school. In 1948 it supported the school board election of Gustavo García, an attorney whose education Escobar had helped finance and who came to represent the league's interests. On August 31, 1948, the league held a rally that drew 3,000 people to garner support for its campaign. Finally, a $9.3 million bond issue for school construction passed in 1950. The league succeeded in getting the Zavala firetrap replaced. The league operated until 1956, though the date of its dissolution is unclear.

María G. Flores, comp., and Laura Gutiérrez-Witt, ed., Mexican American Archives at the Benson Collection: A Guide for Users (General Libraries, University of Texas at Austin, 1981). Mario T. Garcia, Mexican Americans: Leadership, Ideology, and Identity, 1930–1960 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989).
  • Education
  • Organizations
  • Associations
  • Societies
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Cynthia E. Orozco, “School Improvement League,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 21, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1996

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