Wichita School Bond: It’s About Equity

Neighborhood Schools Alliance founding member Lynn Schore sends along a column from the Wichita Eagle about the Wichita School District’s $350 million facilities bond.

Metro columnist Mark McCormick describes a thirty year period, from 1970 to 2000, in which no new schools were built within the city’s Assigned Attendance Area (AAA), a predominately black area, but eight schools were built outside of it. The Wichita school board voted in January to end busing, and now they’ve got to actually build schools where students live.

Portland Public Schools could take a lesson from the Wichita experience. Wichita’s busing is analogous to Portland’s open transfer enrollment policy. Both were designed to give black students access to equal educational opportunities, and both have led to massive divestment from poor and minority neighborhoods.

Like in Wichita, Portland suffers continuous enrollment drain from lower-income neighborhoods, with the educational investment following students into whiter, wealthier neighborhoods. And like in Wichita, this has contributed to lower property values in our poorest neighborhoods. This constitues a form of theft from the least fortunate members of our society, well beyond the actual school funding dollars.

“It has become fashionable to talk about busing as something that didn’t work,” said Wichita Branch NAACP President Kevin Myles to the Wichita school board Monday night. “Busing was never intended as a final solution.”

Couldn’t we say the same about open transfer enrollment? While it might have given black kids a chance back when it was initially implemented as a means of desegregation, it clearly now has black and lower-income kids more segregated, and trapped in second-tier schools.

“Open transfers” are effectively ending by default anyway. Who is going to bank on getting their kids into Alameda, Grant or Lincoln? Let’s be honest about why families transfer from one neighborhood school to another. It’s not because they want their children to have to commute across town. It’s because we don’t have equitable offerings in our poorest neighborhoods.

The solution? Build it, and we will come. The facilities bond that is expected in November must be focused on rebuilding our poorest clusters to draw enrollment back, and it must be coupled with a focus on rebuilding the educational programs in those clusters. Then there will be no need for the neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers that continue to divest millions from our poorest neighborhoods, robbing property value and educational opportunity from our poorest citizens to benefit the richest.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.