Lack of Choice Segregates Cities

Published May 1, 1998

Lack of choice in schooling has helped segregate U.S. cities and keep them segregated, according to Los Angeles writer Daniel Akst, who uses his own situation as an example of why families leave the city when their children are old enough to go to kindergarten.

Rather than place their twin boys in a second-rate local school in the city, Akst and his wife plan to exercise school choice by quitting the city for the suburbs, where the schools are much better but where there is much less racial and ethnic diversity.

“What we need in order to achieve integration is some way to get whites to stay in the cities,” Akst wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal. For example, he adds, “If we could enroll our boys in the public (or private) school of our choice, we might stay in L.A. or relocate to New York.”

As well as helping to segregate the cities and suburbs, lack of school choice is also bad for the environment, according to Akst. Driving people from the cities to the suburbs, it contributes to urban sprawl, moves people away from the infrastructure already in place in the cities, “and results in more driving, fossil-fuel consumption, and other noxious outcomes.”

“The lack of school choice can be blamed for an awful lot of traffic jams and air pollution,” he says, and suggests an alternative. “I suggest keeping people with options in the cities by giving them the option of choosing their kids’ school.”
Wall Street Journal

Choice Group Forming in Florida

Noting the success of Putting Children First, a Texas-based grassroots group that was successful in bringing school choice legislation to a tie vote in that state last year, the director of the Miami Archdiocesan Education Foundation is organizing a non-sectarian group to push for school choice in Florida.

Patrick Heffernan says that national groups like the Center for Education Reform and CEO America could provide expertise in fundraising, grassroots organizing, and pushing for school choice legislation.

Although every child is assured of an elementary and secondary education at public expense, says Heffernan, it is still a legitimate question of public policy to ask: How can we best allocate our education tax dollars to cause the greatest number of children to become educated adults?

“The best way is to treat the funds as a scholarship that will follow the child to the school chosen by the parents–rather than as a direct payment to the schools,” argues Heffernan. “We must put the children first and the schools second as the beneficiaries of our educational tax dollars,” he adds, pointing out that this is how we treat public funds made available for higher education.

“It’s time to do the same for the elementary and secondary years,” he says.

Ohio Businesses Oppose $1.1 Billion Tax Hike

According to a recent survey, an overwhelming 85 percent of Ohio small business owners are opposed to Issue 2, a May 5 ballot question that would increase the sales tax by 20 percent and generate more than $1.1 billion for schools and property tax relief. The ballot question is one of two proposed by the state legislature to respond to a 1997 Ohio Supreme Court order requiring the state to revamp its system of school funding and reduce reliance on property taxes.

Roger R. Geiger, state director of the Ohio chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, warned that Issue 2 contains no guarantee of lasting property tax relief and is just “another attempt to raise taxes in the name of education without any meaningful explanation of how the new revenue will ‘guarantee’ improved education results.”

David Zanotti, president of the Ohio Roundtable and Ohio Freedom Forum, was equally critical of Issue 2, saying that legislators had ducked the real legal problems of the Supreme Court decision and chosen “to simply throw one billion new taxpayer dollars at the problem.” As a simple statute, not a binding constitutional amendment, “Issue 2 guarantees nothing but future headaches” and leaves the entire school funding plan just as vulnerable to legal challenge as it has ever been, he said.
The Ohio Roundtable

New York Approves School Uniforms

Under a new policy unanimously approved by the New York City Board of Education on March 18, the city’s half million students will be required to wear uniforms starting in the 1999-2000 school year unless their parents or their schools are granted exemptions. The new policy applies to students in grades K-6 in all of the city’s 649 elementary schools, 229 of which already require uniforms.

“This policy is important to diminish peer pressure, promote school unity, and promote school pride,” board president William C. Thompson Jr. told The New York Times. Thompson originally proposed strict sanctions for dress code violations ranging from phone calls to parents to suspension from after-school activities. After vocal public criticism and objections from three board members, the most severe punishment was reduced to a reprimand.

Thompson also argued that uniforms would help control student behavior, a view supported by a large majority of principals in schools where uniforms were adopted during the past two years. However, only 45 percent believed that uniforms improved academic performance.
The New York Times
March 21, 1998