Tue, Aug

Education’s Priorities Gone Awry

THE VIEW FROM HERE - I couldn’t go another day without writing about how education can be cold and callous.  The article about Tanya McDowell, a homeless mother in Norwalk, Connecticut, who chose to send her son to a school outside of her school district, has my blood boiling.

She is being charged with first degree grand larceny for supposedly stealing $15,686 in educational services.

This is an obvious case of education disparity and not equaling the playing field for every child regardless of socio-economic status.

Can anyone steal an education?  From the last time I checked, you can partake and receive an education.  It’s free!  Isn’t that the meaning behind public?

Cases like Ms. McDowell’s is not uncommon when it comes to helping homeless children enroll in school.  In my days working in homeless services, I sometimes found getting a child into a school challenging. 

The challenge was the darn excuses as to why the child couldn’t enroll there.  The first excuse was always that the child lacked a permanent verifiable address. 

The second, there was no ability to communicate with the parent because a permanent consistent phone number was not present.  Last and my all-time favorite, the school was not the best choice due to the family’s circumstance or current living situation.

I can tell you threats and perseverance were the only way to secure an enrollment for the homeless child.

Why should schools put homeless children and their families through the ringer over access to education?

Clearly drawing a line with access being one side and no access on the other shows how imbalanced our educational system really is.  Who in good conscience can sue a homeless parent for enrolling his or her child into a good school?  Doing such a thing is heartless, ruthless, calculating, hateful, discriminatory, and senseless.

The McKinney-Vento legislation is meant to ensure that a child of a homeless parent has equal access to the same free public education and is not separated from the mainstream school environment. States or school districts with residency laws that are barriers to enrollment, attendance, or success must implement policies to afford equal access.

Finally, homeless children are provided an opportunity to meet the same challenging student academic achievement standards to which all students are held.

It’s funny when you have not; some seem to think you are not entitled to have.  Education is like that for homeless families and their children.  They want a quality education for their children, but will get penalized for wanting the best.  Sometimes being in the best schools and having access to other parents who may have resources is the best for the whole family.  It’s bad enough being homeless and being stripped of a basic necessity, a home.

School choice rests with the parent.  We don’t need to dictate a parent’s choice to put a child in a school where they know a child will learn and succeed.

I know people who are not homeless and are living in poverty who wake up every morning to travel more than 10 miles to send their kids to a good school because the neighborhood schools are crap. 

For a homeless parent to do it, I see no reason to punish for making a wise choice for the benefit of the child.

In looking at Los Angeles alone, can you imagine what would happen to the nearly 13,500 homeless children in the Los Angeles School District if they were deprived of a choice to a good school solely based on their homeless status?

I personally don’t want to think about it because I know what the outcome would be and the public costs associated with it.  I will add that Los Angeles Unified School District’s homeless student population is larger than homeless populations in most mid-size cities in the United States.

We can’t close the door on educational opportunities for homeless parents and their children.  Education is an opportunity for everyone!

(Janet Denise Ganaway-Kelly offers more than a decade of accomplishments in the housing and nonprofit sector. Janet brings valuable insight in the areas of community and economic development. Additionally, she brings knowledge regarding the leadership and management challenges faced by large and small nonprofits that are struggling or growing organizations. She blogs at  jdkellyenterprises.org )    -cw

Vol 9 Issue 37
Pub: May 10, 2011