It’s been an eventful few days on the education scene here in my hometown as Maria Hernandez, a parent of a student attending our local high school, Cranston East, was arrested for allegedly falsifying an affadavit in which she claimed to be a resident of our city. She is being criminally charged with fraud and larceny for allegedly stealing approximately $36,000 in educational services.
Ms. Hernandez wanted a better education for her son. This is the promise of No Child Left Behind: that parents will be able to choose the best school for their child. It’s a big promise, and, unfortunately, it’s a fairly empty one at this point. Only 1% of schools reportedly are fulfilling the school choice option of No Child Left Behind.
Why isn’t the option being used? In a city like Providence, one answer is that the choices are limited. Would you like to send your child to a really bad school, or just a kind of bad school? Remember: the choice to send your child to another school is only within the district. So what if, as in a city like Providence, only one of the large high schools is high performing? What if the slots in the smaller community schools sponsored by the school system (two of which are also high performing in Providence) are all filled?
Will the stated goals for school choice become easier to fulfill under Bush’s 2007 plan for education? While money has been allocated in Bush’s budget to fund new initiatives to help at-risk youth, the bottom line is that funding for education is being reduced in this country. Money for smaller community schools within large urban school districts is being cut by $94 million. These appear to be some of the more successful initiatives in urban education for at-risk students, at least in Providence.
According to the Projo article on Ms. Hernandez’s arrest, about 300 students in the Cranston public schools are non-residents. Our current per-pupil cost of education in Cranston is $11,546. That means approximately $3.5 million dollars a year is going toward education of children whose families are not paying Cranston’s taxes. This makes a lot of Cranston tax-payers angry. It stirs up lots of energy around the mayor, who is taking a stand, and hoping this stand will win him recognition and votes in his bid for Lincoln Chafee’s US Senate seat.
But I wonder if our energy would be more productively directed by working on a plan for the city of Cranston to collaborate with the city of Providence to make No Child Left Behind a reality: if we accepted students who wanted to enter our school system and were fully reimbursed for the cost of their education by the LEA (Local Education Agency) from whence they came. This is what No Child Left Behind recommends for school districts to do when they do not have adequate choices within their own districts.
I know, it’s right up there with “Give Peace a Chance.” But it seems to make a lot more sense than political grandstanding and arresting parents who have to borrow money from their children to post bail. And it would be a step in the direction of fulfilling one of the stated goals of No Child Left Behind.