Neighborhood schools sound pretty innocuous to many people. I have been asked by many well-meaning parents what is so bad about kids not having to get up so early to catch a bus halfway across the county in order to arrive at some magic number made up by statisticians. Where's the harm in having your kids go to school closer to home, they ask. Doesn't that make more sense?
Perhaps we should ask Kelly Williams-Bolar, an African American mother of two who felt that her children would be served better if they did not go to their neighborhood school in the housing project where they lived in Akron, Ohio. Instead, the mother enrolled her children in a nearby school district that was predominantly white using her father's address.
Wanting her children to have the best education possible landed Ms. Williams-Bolar in jail. She was also ordered to repay the education she "stole" for her kids because her district's inner city schools were woefully underfunded compared to the well-to-do white suburban district next door.
One has to also wonder why there is a $30,000 funding differential between the school that Williams-Bolar sent her children to and the one that was in her district. Logic seems to imply that if funding were roughly proportionate between the two districts, it would simply be a wash, where one school's spending could be compensated by another school's savings. But this is not the case in a world where far too many people of color are locked in to the horrible schools in their districts, as our elected officials continue to ignore the problem. Many of these schools don't have books or quality teachers, while the kids in the suburbs are given everything they need to be successful. The idea that citizens are now being put in jail for attempting to access educational equality is nothing short of being Jim Crow-like in nature.
So the next time someone tells me that our concerns about neighborhoods schools becoming separate and unequal are unfounded, I will tell them the story of Kelly Williams-Bolar. Then I will ask them how they explain to their children what it means to live in a place where poor parents have no choice but to "steal" an education for their children if they want the best for them.
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