Past Meets Present: Education, Housing, and Segregation
Want to make some quick cash? $250 to be exact. Easy money. What would you do for that kind of money?
This proposition is completely legal. All you have to do is make one telephone call. (Operators are probably standing by!) In order to qualify, all you have to do is have the city and state, name of a school, name of a person, age or grade level of a child, a second address, know how long the person has lived there—and with whom. Add some information about how you know whether the person in question does not live in a particular home and $250 is yours.
Confused? Let me clarify: There are businesses that verify addresses of students and employees. Why would this be necessary? These businesses prevent or catch students from attending a school outside of their district (or employees from working in areas where they should not).
One example of an educational thief is Kenny Williams-Bolar. Williams-Bolar is a single mother from Ohio who sent her daughters to a school in her father's neighborhood. Unfortunately, Williams-Bolar herself was not a resident of that school district. Williams-Bolar was charged with grand theft and received a conviction of two felony counts. She spent nine days in jail. At the time of her arrest, Williams-Bolivar was only 12 credit hours away from gaining her license as a teacher. With a felony count she would be unable to pursue teaching as a career. Fortunately for Williams-Bolar her charges were dropped to misdemeanors so she will be able to pursue teaching.
Another example of educational theft is the case of Tanya McDowell. McDowell was a homeless woman in Connecticut. News accounts indicate that at the time of the theft, McDowell was living in her van, moving between friends’ homes in Norwalk and Bridgeport, and a homeless shelter. McDowell used the address of her son's babysitter in Norwalk to enroll him into kindergarten. She pleaded guilty to larceny and drug sales and was given a 12 year prison sentence. (If like me you’re wondering where a homeless parent is supposed to send their child to school, the answer appears to be in the district of their last residence.)
Both McDowell and Williams-Bolar are African American. Is that by chance? Arguably, not. As Karen Sternheimer discussed in this post about the lingering legacy of segregation, institutional racism is difficult to see, but its effects continue to affect our lives decades after the law and public opinion have shifted. Think about it, as Matthew Desmond and Mustafa Emirbayer point out in Racial Domination, Racial Progress: The Sociology of Race in America, today more African Americans live in segregated neighborhoods than did at the end of the Civil War; most African Americans live in cities that are predominantly African American. As the well-off moved out of cities in the last century or so, we have seen a concentration of the poor and minorities left behind in decaying neighborhoods. Moving out of these ghettoes has never been as simple as having the desire (and money!) to do so. Minorities who want to move to a better school district faced a number or roadblocks including: denials of Federal Housing Administration loans, real estate agents purposely avoiding certain areas when showing available housing, redlining, and racial covenants, which legally prevented homeowners from selling their homes to members of races listed in the home’s title deed.
What is the relationship between where you live and the merit of your education? Schools in poor neighborhoods tend to experience teacher shortages and underperform on any number of measures due to inadequate resources. (To encourage more teachers in these areas, a number of incentives have been tried, including student loan forgiveness.)
This is the case because public schools are heavily funded by property tax revenues. Therefore, if those revenues are low—based on property values, low-income neighborhoods cannot generate high property tax revenues—there are limited funds to pay for the things associated with enhancing education such as textbooks, computers, and appealing teacher salaries. Conversely, parents who live in higher tax districts are paying to provide their children with access to the best public schools. Their tax dollars then, afford their children that education. Why don’t parents like McDowell and Williams-Bolar do the same? Both single mothers, there is every indication that neither one could afford to live in areas with better schools systems.
How segregated—or not—is your neighborhood? How good is the school district where you live? What do you notice about your neighborhood schools compared to those in some other areas? In your area, what are the schools like in predominantly white neighborhoods? And in predominantly minority neighborhoods? If you lived in a low-income neighborhood, would you feel like you should get the same kind of education like your peers in a more affluent area? And as a parent, what might you do to get your children the best education possible?