Wichita School Bond: It’s About Equity

7:48 am

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.

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

filed under: Equity, Facilities, Transfer Policy

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8 Responses

  1. Comment from JustaDog:

    give black students access to equal educational opportunities

    Many minority and poorer parents don’t have real educational choices. Democrats force them to send their children to government schools while parents that can afford it send their children to much better private schools.

    Conservatives across the country continue to push for school vouchers that would give the parents a true choice – failed government schools or entry into private schools.

    Teacher unions are powerful, and since Democrats are the puppets of unions the poor continue to suffer.

    Building more failed government schools is not the answer – if you truly care about a child’s education. If, on the other hand, you are focused on the success of the unions you, like all union types, will bash this comment or delete it all together.

  2. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    I won’t delete your comment, but I will refer you to the comment policy, particularly #3: “Don’t hijack topics.” Also take note of #10: “You get one warning for any violation. This policy is not up for discussion.”

    This post is not about vouchers, Democrats, conservatives, or unions, and remarks like “If, on the other hand, you are focused on the success of the unions you, like all union types…” are not germane to the discussion.

    If you want to intelligently discuss the actual content of the post, you are welcome here. If you just want to spout off about Democrats, vouchers and unions, regardless of the topic at hand, you will be banned.

  3. Comment from Neisha:

    Steve: I completely agree with your take on the facilities bond.

    This may be of interest. My sister is moving to Cincinnati this year and looking at neighborhoods/schools. CPS just finished converting to PK-8 and is using the same consultant hired by PPS to plan and implement their 10-year $1 billion dollar facilities bond. They are in year four of the rebuilding process.

    CPS is slightly smaller than PPS in terms of enrollment and has a smaller capture rate, but some similar issues in terms of declining enrollment and segregation. They only have a lottery for magnets, but they have more charter schools than we do.

    Here’s the link to their facilities information, which should give us a sense of how things look mid-process:


  4. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Steve, are you now shifting from abandoning your end the transfer policy to a fix the poor school policy? Sounds like it. Though I am guessing your true feelings are to do both. I have been sticking with the fix the poor school policy and think it makes a more feasible argument. Just curious. The off topic guy was correct in saying that building more failing public schools is not the answer. The answer is building good, solid well run public schools.

  5. Comment from Neisha:

    In addition to starting with the less wealthy clusters, I wonder if it also makes more sense to start with high schools, for the greatest impact. That’s only 4 buildings to rebuild, but the number of students affected would be large and would include students in the feeder schools as well.

  6. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Back in November, I basically said, if you think you can build equity without ending the transfer policy, go for it. But you’ve got to show me the money.

    The reality is, the money is with the students, and huge numbers of them have transfered out of our poorest neighborhoods. If you want to fully fund these schools, you’ve got to bring back the students.

    Neisha, the high school issue is political dynamite. Nobody wants to touch it right now, because the reality is that we have two too many buildings if we want an average of 1,400 students in a high school.

    That’s the number PPS seems to be aiming for, and it seems reasonable (All of Beaverton’s high schools are over 2,000, with one at 2,800 students).

    Well, it seems reasonable until you start talking about closing or merging existing schools. That’s when it turns into dynamite.

  7. Comment from Neisha:

    Yeah, I see what you mean. It just seems that the four clusters that could use some excitement about high schools are likely the ones that currently contain the most school-age kids or will soon.

    Starting the facilities redo by sprucing up those four buildings gives you so much bang for your buck in so many ways.

  8. Comment from Neisha:

    Also, and this is a whole ‘nother discussion, but given how hard it is to predict enrollment trends (see, e.g. Rigler, Scott, Laurelhurst, etc.), it seems like a bad idea to close any high school. Especially since housing prices are now dropping and loads of people continue to move here.

    Are 10 high schools that expensive to operate? Considering that it would be hugely expensive and nearly impossible to find the land to build a new one if we ever way underpredicted and closed too many?