Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Wrong Side of the Tracks, Part IV

This is the fourth in a series of posts concerning the ethnic imbalance in our schools. The first of the series can be found here.

As their term ended in June, the US Supreme Court released a number of decisions. If you have been listening to the news of the past couple of weeks, you know that an unusual number of those decisions were 5-4, very much along philosophical lines. There has been much concern expressed in the mainstream media that this particular Court is embarking on an effort to reverse many cases which define the liberal position in America. One of those was the Brown vs Board of Education decision which ordered the desegregation of public schools in America.

This year, the case of Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1 was brought before the Supreme Court, and in one of those 5-4 votes, the Court decided that discrimination on the basis of race, even when intention is to promote racial balance, is inappropriate. Since this decision was announced, every single news report I've seen or heard has said that this decision reversed Brown.

I'm not a lawyer, so I won't pretend to say whether this is true or not. But as I have found to be the case so many times, you have to dig past what the press and the politicians are saying and get to the unadulterated facts if you want the truth. It's not hard at all to get on the website for the US Supreme Court and read the text of their decisions. Here is the opinion for this case.

If you have read the rest of this series, you know that I believe that Hilliard Schools are becoming increasingly segregated, and that there is more to it than just the luck of the draw based on where your home is located. So in listening to what the mainstream media was saying about this case, I thought that those who support this resegregation had won the day.

But Justice Kennedy said something interesting in his concurring opinion:
School authorities concerned that their student bodies' racial composition interfere with offering an equal education opportunity to all are free to devise race-conscious measures to address the problem in a general way and without treating each student in different fashion based solely on a systematic, individual typing by race. Such measures may include the strategic site selection of new schools, drawing attendance zones with general recognition of neighborhood demographics, allocating resources for special programs, recruiting students and facilty in a targeted fashion; and tracking enrollments, performance and other statistics by race.

Therefore, as I read it from a layman's perspective, the option remains open to adjust attendance boundaries as long as there is no intent to target individuals.

I understand how difficult it is to change attendance zone for our schools, having served on the Redistricting Committee this last time around. But I also heard enough folks on that Committee use language such as "those people" and "they live there because they want to" to know that racism and elitism exists in our community.

The education we give our kids isn't just what they learn from their teachers in the classrooms, it's also those things they see us parents do and say as members of a community.

The battle to end discrimination in America is NOT over. If anything, we're regressing as new waves of immigrants pour in.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Amendment Supporters Predict Failure to Qualify

First heard from Pho's Akron Pages:

The "Getting It Right For Ohio's Future" team (GIRFOF), the folks who have been driving the campaign to get the proposed school funding amendment on the November ballot, announced today that they did not think sufficient signatures would be collected to qualify.

I have not been a fan of this proposed amendment, for two primary reasons. First is that it takes a good deal of control from the people of the local school district and the elected representatives and places it in the hands of panels appointed at the state level. This is not a solution because the system for allocating state funding has never been the problem. It's that the General Assembly repeatedly has failed to fund schools to the level the current formula requires. We can't fix that problem with an amendment, as the General Assembly can refuse to fund a new system as well.

But my primary complaint has been the misdirection of the conversation by the groups who authored and support the amendment -- the educators themselves. They want us to think this conversation is about Johnny in some dilapidated school in Appalachia not having his own desk.

It's not. The key cost in the operation of a school district is the salaries and benefits of the teachers, administrators and staff -- typically 80% or more of total (it's 87% in Hilliard). This amendment is all about placing control of the funding that pays those salaries in the hands of the State Board of Education, and putting this funding at the head of the line at budget time.

GIRFOF has not actually withdrawn the amendment proposal; they've just said that it looks like they won't get enough signatures by August 8th, when the petitions must be submitted to the Secretary of State (only 150,000 have been collected of the 400,000 required). But who knows, maybe this announcement will motivate rather than demotivate the volunteer solicitors (mostly teachers and administrators), and they'll get the job done.

The debate would have been interesting had this amendment proposal qualified. But not nearly enough people would pay attention to the debate or investigate for themselves. For that reason alone, I'm glad it's not likely to appear on the ballot.